Muslim rioters in Jerusalem
Muslim rioters in Jerusalem Reuters

Islamist rioters and Israeli security forces clashed in Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount and in the surrounding Old City for a third straight day on Tuesday, despite international calls for calm.

Masked Muslim youths gathered around the mosque threw rocks and other projectiles at police who had entered the compound in large numbers and responded with stun grenades.  

Police said they cleared debris from the entrance of the mosque and closed the door on those inside who had been throwing stones, fireworks and other objects at security forces.

The Jordanian-run Waqf organisation which administers the site claimed police entered deep inside the mosque to quell the violence.

The new flare-up came despite calls for restraint from the United Nations, the United States and the European Union. Jordan, which has custodianship rights over Muslim holy places in Jerusalem under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, warned that relations were on the line. 

UN special envoy for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov warned that "provocations" at the site could lead to unrest in other parts of the Middle East.

"As the Middle East faces a vicious tide of terror and extremism, such serious provocations have the potential to ignite violence well beyond the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem," Mladenov said.

The rioters fear Israel is seeking to loosen the severe restrictions on Jewish visits to the Temple Mount. Despite being Judaism's holiest site, Israeli authorities have responded to Islamist threats of violence and threats by Jordan to break relations by barring Jews and other non-Muslims from praying there, among a raft of other restrictions.

Despite the claims by Muslim groups Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said the "status quo" - i.e. a ban on Jewish prayer - will be preserved.

Israeli police said youths barricaded themselves inside the mosque overnight as they had over the two previous days with the aim of disrupting visits by Jews to the compound.

Masked protesters threw stones towards the gate when regular visits to the site began on Tuesday morning, the second day of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). 

After security forces entered the compound, "masked assailants fled inside the mosque and began throwing dozens of stones" and other objects, including fireworks, police said.

There were at least four arrests, while clashes also broke out in the Old City surrounding the compound. Limited visits to the site were later allowed to go ahead.  

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 26 people were wounded, of whom two were hospitalized. Israeli police said five officers were lightly injured.  

Old City clashes

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said security forces shut the door on protesters inside the mosque in a tactic they have used in the past to restore calm.  

Previous such incidents have seen police briefly enter the mosque to close the door.  

"Police forces did not penetrate into the interior of Al-Aqsa mosque," Samri said in a statement.

Waqf spokesman Firas al-Dibs said "police stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque and went inside" as far as the minbar, or imam's pulpit. He said police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades that caused fires.

Palestinian Authority leaders meeting in Ramallah called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council while denouncing what they said was a plan to change the status of the site.

Clashes in the Old City appeared to be more intense than over the previous two days. Police fired stun grenades to push back protesters who threw rocks and yelled: "We will never give up because Mohammed is our leader."

"The real owners of Al-Aqsa are kept outside while the thieves are inside," said a 42-year-old Arab woman, referring to Jews, who said she came from Nazareth to protest, adding that she feared Israel was aiming to allow Jewish worship at the compound.  

The three days of clashes have come as Jews celebrated their new year, or Rosh Hashanah, which began on Sunday evening and ends on Tuesday evening.

Islamist extremist groups have responded to a drive by Jewish rights groups for greater access to the mosque compound by upping an organized campaign of harassment against Jewish visitors. 

In a landmark decision last week, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon officially outlawed the two groups responsible for that campaign - which includes intimidating and sometimes physically attacking Jewish visitors in a bid to discourage them from returning - the "Murabitun" and "Murabitat."

Later on Tuesday, Netanyahu is to hold an "emergency meeting" of members of his cabinet involved with security to discuss ways of responding to recent incidents of violent attacks by Palestinians in and around Jerusalem.

The meeting followed the fatal stoning of an Israeli car by Arab rioters in Jerusalem, which killed an Israeli motorist.

AFP contributed to this report.

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