The police on Tuesday closed the entrances to the Temple Mount after violent clashes with dozens of Palestinians.
The clashes erupted shortly before 2 pm after a fire erupted inside a police post on the compound, also known as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary). Police said the fire was caused by a firebomb.
Riots on Temple Mount, Palestinians throw explosive device at police, March 12, 2019 (Courtesy Waqf)A police officer was lightly wounded in the attack, the Jerusalem Police said.
Some Palestinians, however, rejected the police account that the post was torched by a firebomb.
At least two eyewitnesses claimed that the fire was caused by children who were playing with fireworks.
This was not the first attack of its kind against the police post, which Palestinians see as a symbol of Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount.
In 1990, Palestinian rioters tried to attack a number of policemen who had barricaded themselves inside the post. The policemen managed to flee the scene and the rioters torched the post and damaged police equipment.
In 2014, Palestinian rioters again torched the post after policemen who were stationed there were ordered by their commanders to leave out of fear for their lives.
After Tuesday’s incident, dozens of policemen were rushed to the Temple Mount, sparking scuffles with Palestinian women and Waqf guards.
Three Palestinians were immediately arrested in connection with the firebomb attack on the police post.
The police closed the entrances to the compound after Palestinian activists and groups began calling on Palestinians to head to Al-Aqsa Mosque to “defend it against the assault by the police and Jewish extremists.”
The police also temporarily closed the Old City’s Damascus Gate and Lion’s Gate.
The Palestinian Authority condemned what it termed the dangerous Israeli escalation in Al-Aqsa Mosque and warned that Israel’s actions would have “grave repercussions.”
The PA called on the international community to immediately intervene to “halt Israeli assaults on Al-Aqsa Mosque.” PA President Mahmoud Abbas is holding contacts with relevant parties, specifically Jordan, to pressure Israel to “stop this dangerous escalation,” said a statement issued by Abbas’s office in Ramallah.
Yusef al-Mahmoud, spokesman for the PA government, claimed that Israel was seeking “to carry out its schemes to control Al-Aqsa Mosque and obliterate the Arab features of Jerusalem.”
PLO Executive Committee member Ahmed Majdalani warned that the closure of the entrances to the Temple Mount would lead to an “explosion.” He urged Arab and Muslim states to take quick measures “to stop Israel from igniting fires in Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Palestine.”
He and other senior Palestinian officials also claimed that Israel was working towards dividing the Temple Mount compound between Jews and Muslims.
“Al-Aqsa Mosque is a red line,” cautioned Osama Qawassmeh, a spokesman for Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction in the West Bank. “Tampering with holy sites, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque, is a direct call for violence. Fatah won’t allow Israel to carry out its schemes, regardless of the price.”
Tuesday’s tensions came as Israel and Jordan, which controls the Waqf Department in east Jerusalem, continued to search for ways to solve the crisis surrounding the Bab a-Rahma (Golden Gate) site on the Temple Mount.
The crisis erupted when Palestinians reopened the contested site last month. The site was closed by court order 16 years ago because of illegal construction and activity carried out there by the Islamic Movement in Israel and Hamas-affiliated activists.
Last week, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, at the request of the police, ordered Bab a-Rahma re-closed.
Waqf officials have rejected the court order, saying they do not recognize its jurisdiction over Islamic holy shrines. On Tuesday, the court extended its one-week closure deadline to the Waqf so as to allow Jordan and Israel more time to find a solution to the crisis.