After Months of Quiet, Scuffles Erupt After Jews Ascend Temple Mount

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FILE PHOTO: Policemen guard as Jewish youths leave Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City. September 22, 2015.
FILE PHOTO: Policemen guard as Jewish youths leave Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City. September 22, 2015. Credit: Reuters

Violent clashes erupted on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on Monday for a second day. The unrest is the first at the site in several months, and came with only 10 days left until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In recent years the police prevented Jews from ascending the Temple Mount during the final days of Ramadan, but the police and Public Security Ministry decided to allow them to enter the compound as usual on Sunday and on Monday following a situation assessment. The police decision to allow the Temple Mount visits reflected the fact that the Passover and Jerusalem Day holidays, which in prior years had been marked by violent incidents involving Palestinians, passed relatively quietly this year.

In general, Ramadan has been relatively quiet in Jerusalem this year. Friday prayers have passed without any exceptional incidents and calm has prevailed in the city's Palestinian neighborhoods.

But on the Temple Mount on Monday, masked Muslim worshipers threw stones and verbally lambasted officers securing the Jewish visits on Monday. A number of Palestinians were wounded after police fired rubber bullets. On Sunday, a policeman, several demonstrators and two guards working for the waqf, the Muslim trust that administers the Temple Mount on a day-to-day basis, were injured in confrontations at the site. The violence Sunday began immediately after the area was opened, when Palestinian men, some masked, began to throw stones at the visitors and the policemen who were guarding them. One policeman was lightly injured and treated at the scene.

Most of the confrontations Sunday took place outside Al-Aqsa Mosque, where police said a group of Muslims entrenched themselves overnight with the intension of clashing with police and disrupting the visits by Jews during the Muslim holy month. Rumors that police had actually entered the mosque circulated on Palestinian social networks and in the Arabic media. But despite the scuffles, police continued to enable non-Muslims to visit the compound; in the end only 18 Jews did so, along with 375 foreign tourists. In the course of the unrest on Sunday, five people were arrested on the Temple Mount --  two Palestinians; and three Muslim visitors from Britain who were removed from the site and expelled from the country.

On Monday, the Temple Mount was opened later than usual for visits by Jews and the police limited them to a shorter path on the mount than usual. In response to the visit by the Jews to the mount, the site of the two ancient Temples of antiquity, Muslim worshippers began throwing stones, firecrackers and yelling at the police officers protecting the Jews.

Police said those holed up in the mosque had collected stones and other objects and erected barriers to prevent the doors of the mosque to be shut. "The [police] forces pushed the stone throwers into the Al-Aqsa mosque and at the end of the visits [by non-Muslims] the rioters began throwing stones again," the police said.

For its part, Ir Amim, an organization with the stated goal of promoting a "more equitable and sustainable" city for Jerusalem's Jews and Palestinians, said: "[Public Security] Minister Erdan and the police needed to anticipate that violating the unofficial custom of prior years and allowing non-Muslims to enter [the mount] towards the end of Ramadan would cause the situation on the Temple Mount to deteriorate. If they hadn't anticipated that, it showed faulty judgment. If they allowed it knowing the consequences, it showed irresponsibility."