JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli police and Palestinians clashed on Sunday at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound, where violence in recent weeks has raised international concern.
No injuries or arrests were initially reported, after Palestinian youths, chanting “God is great”, threw rocks at police in riot gear, who responded with what a spokeswoman described as “appropriate riot dispersal means”.
She declined to elaborate, but said calm had been restored. Israel Radio said police had fired rubber bullets.
Palestinians have said they fear that increasing visits by Jewish groups to the holy compound, revered by Jews as the site of Biblical temples, are eroding Muslim religious control there.
Israel has pledged to maintain Muslim prayer rights at al-Aqsa, but, citing security concerns, has frequently banned young Muslim men from entering the area, which it captured when it seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank in a 1967 war.
There have been similar days of unrest at al-Aqsa over the past several weeks during a period coinciding with the onset of major Jewish and Muslim holidays.
Sunday’s incident occurred on the eve of the Jewish festival of Sukkoth and the end of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. An Israeli ban on Jewish visits to the compound, imposed several days ago in a bid to lower tensions, was still in effect.
The White House has said it was deeply concerned about the violence at the site and has called on all sides to “exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric”.
While violence in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has not approached the levels of past Palestinian uprisings, there has been a surge of Palestinian stone-throwing.
On Thursday, Israel’s security cabinet of senior ministers decided to impose a minimum four-year jail term on Palestinian petrol bombers and rock throwers and to ease open-fire regulations.
In a statement, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, called the new rules “a mere pretext to justify the escalating Israeli crimes against the people of Palestine”.
Israeli police said late on Saturday they had arrested four Palestinian teenagers from East Jerusalem suspected of involvement in a stone-throwing attack on a car on Sept. 13 that caused the death of its 64-year-old Israeli driver.
Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Ori Lewis, editing by William Hardy