New Clashes Erupt Between Israeli Security Forces, Muslim Worshippers Near Temple Mount

Temple Mount temporarily closed to Jewish visitors after several brought sacred books to the Jerusalem holy site and attempting to pray there ■ 14 Palestinians reported wounded, one critically, during overnight clashes with police

Israeli forces detain a Palestinian man outside the Lion's Gate in Jerusalem, July 19, 2017.
Israeli forces detain a Palestinian man outside the Lion's Gate in Jerusalem, July 19, 2017. Oded Balilty/AP

The Temple Mount was temporarily closed to Jewish visitors on Wednesday at the order of Jerusalem District Commander Yoram Halevy after Jews broke visitation rules at the holy site, police said. 

The Jewish visitors were expelled from the compound for bringing sacred books to the Mount and trying to pray there. After one of the individuals was cautioned, another took out a holy book, and the group was expelled.

Meanwhile, renewed clashes erupted between protesters and Israeli security forces near the Lion's Gate in the Old City, where police used stun grenades against the demonstrators.

A regular dynamic has developed involving clashes between Palestinians and Israel Police over the past several days near the Lion's Gate. Dozens of Palestinians are present at the site on a regular basis, urging devotion to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and condemning Israel. During Muslim prayer times, particularly the midday and nighttime prayers, hundreds and sometimes even thousands have been gathering there.

There have been outbreaks of violence during these periods, including stone-throwing or physical confrontations with the police. In most of these incidents, the police have been using stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets to disperse the crowds.

In a number of cases, journalists in the area have also suffered violence at the hands of the police. On Tuesday, Hassan Shaalan, a reporter for the Ynet news website, was struck by a policeman even after he identified himself as a member of the press. A group of Jerusalem-based journalists released a statement of condemnation over the incident and called on the police to permit reporters to do their jobs.

The Jerusalem Police responded: "This involved an incident that took place in the course of violent disturbances of the peace that occurred in Jerusalem while the police were acting to remove the demonstrators from the street after some of them refused to vacate. The forces working on the scene are under constant threat to their lives. In incidents such as these, all of those present must comply with the police orders and vacate in accordance with instructions. Without any connection to this incident or another, we stress that no one in Israel, including a reporter, is above the law. In addition, the circumstances of the incident will be investigated and, if necessary, they will be addressed of our own accord by those authorized to do so."

There is major tension in the city in advance of Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount on Friday. Tens of thousands are expected to attend the prayers. The mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, announced on Wednesday that the mosques around Jerusalem will be closed to enable everyone to come to the gates leading to the Temple Mount. The Israel Police are preparing to deploy thousands of additional police officers in anticipation of the Friday prayers.

Jews visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, July 18, 2017.
Emil Salman

Sources in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's entourage in Budapest said Netanyahu, who is in Hungary for a summit with European leaders, is holding a meeting on the situation at the Temple Mount with a number of Israeli officials, including ministers of defense and public security, the chief of staff, the police commissioner, the head of the Shin Ben and the coordinator of government activity in the territories. 

"No operative decisions have been made yet," said the source, adding that another talk will be held later on Wednesday.

The Temple Mount had only been reopened to Jewish visitors on Monday, after being closed down following a deadly terror attack last Friday. The placement of metal detectors at the site after the attack led to violent confrontations between Muslim worshippers and police. On Tuesday, Palestinian sources reported that 14 people were wounded, one of whom critically, in clashes at the Temple Mount. The police said the worshippers threw rocks and bottles at them and that one arrest was made.