Clashes broke out Tuesday on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between Israeli police forces and Muslim worshipers after a firebomb was hurled toward a police post, causing a blaze to break out at the holy site. This adds to heightened tension around the Temple Mount in recent weeks over attempts to reopen a contested building closed off by Israel.
Police broke into the compound following the incident and arrested three people on suspicion of hurling the firebomb. All gates to the Temple Mount were closed, and police evacuated everyone present. The police announced later on Tuesday that the compound will be reopened to worshipers and other visitors on Wednesday morning.
Palestinians report that several worshipers and Waqf personnel, the Muslim custodian of the site, have been arrested, and that Israeli forces broke into the Dome of the Rock and mosques in the compound.
Palestinian eyewitnesses said they saw four people being arrested, two of whom were women. According to the Red Crescent, four Palestinians were injured in the clashes and have evacuated to a nearby hospital.
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In a statement, Hamas "called on Palestinians from all over – in Jerusalem, the West Bank and within the Green Line – to storm Al-Aqsa Mosque, to break the barricade that the Israeli police have thrown upon us, and to never give up on the right to enter the complex freely."
Several hours after the Gaza-based organization's statement, Palestinian protesters gathered at the Lions Gate, and Israeli police barred the Grand Mufti Muhammed Ahmad Hussein from entering the Temple Mount.
The Jordanian minister of religious affairs said "the closure of the Al-Aqsa mosque by Israeli police constitutes blatant aggression. It is a violation of all religious and human values, understandings and agreements with Israel."
A member of the Waqf council, Hatem Abdel Qader said, “This is an Israeli attempt to close the mosque complex, we don’t believe the Israeli claim that a firebomb was thrown, Israel was just looking for a reason to close the mosque.”
"We hope Israel will come to its senses are reopen the mosque soon because we are heading towards a crisis on the scale of the metal detector crisis,” Qader added, referring to a 2017 wave of protest over Israel's decision to install metal detecrots around the Temple Mount and conduct security checks on all those wishing to enter it.
The UN special envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, said on Twitter, "I am following events at the holy esplanade in Jerusalem with concern. Places of worship are for prayer, not for provocations of violence. Restraint must be shown to avoid inflaming an already tense situation. The status quo must be fully respected by all."
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Magistrate Court postponed by one week its decision regarding the closure of the disputed Bab al-Rahma building on the Mount.
Israel closed the site to worshipers 16 years ago, based on the claim that it served a group associated with Hamas. But last month, officials from the Waqf reopened the building.
Police have since attempted to close it again, but Muslim protesters have reopened it and have used it as a mosque.
The police post that was targeted in Tuesday's clashes is situated in a building near the Dome of the Rock at the center of the Temple Mount. It was the target of aggression on several occasions in the past.
Palestinians in the area perceive police presence there as a symbol of Israel's stronghold over the compound.
The worst attack on this spot was in 1990, when several policemen were trapped in the post while a Palestinian throng circled them. During the incident, Border Police officers broke into the Temple Mount; in the ensuing clashes 17 Palestinians were killed in what is considered the worst incident on the Temple Mount since 1967.
In July 2014, following violent protests over the arson murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Hadir, the Israel Police evacuated the post. Palestinians then stormed it and set it on fire.