Israeli police fire tear gas at Palestinians at Al Aqsa mosque
JERUSALEM // Israeli police yesterday clashed with Palestinian protesters on Tuesday in the revered Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, ahead of a parliamentary debate over sovereignty of the holy site.
Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, was preparing to debate a bill calling for Israel to annex the compound, Islam’s third-holiest site and Judaism’s holiest, which has been administered by Jordan for 20 years under a 1994 peace treaty.
Jordan’s opposition Islamists meanwhile urged the government to freeze the treaty with Israel, fiercely objecting to any change in status of Jerusalem’s Muslim sites.
Israeli security forces entered the Al Aqsa compound just after 7.30am, and fired stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse Palestinian protesters, said a police spokesman, adding there was high tension ahead of the Knesset debate.
Stones thrown by the Palestinians injured two policemen while three protesters were arrested.
Palestinian medics said 15 protesters were injured by rubber bullets.
Azzam Al Khatib, the director of the Islamic body that oversees the site, said he had called for a closure of access to the compound to avoid clashes.
“Since yesterday we’ve been demanding the closure of the Maghabira gate [which leads to the Al Aqsa compound], because of the provocations and statements against Muslims by various right-wing parties,” he said.
“We are waiting to see what happens at the Knesset today. There have been Jordanian contacts with Israel to prevent any moves that will affect Al Aqsa’s status [under Jordanian administration].”
The Israeli Knesset was due last night to debate a bill introduced by MP Moshe Feiglin, a hardline member of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, which envisages the “application of Israeli sovereignty” over the compound.
Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the world community. Under a 1994 peace treaty, Jordan retained authority over all Muslim sites in Jerusalem.
Jordan’s opposition Islamists called on the government to freeze the treaty, latching onto the bill as justification for severing ties with Israel.
“We urge the government to meet the demands of people who have repeatedly called for freezing and eventually cancelling the peace treaty,” the Islamic Action Front (IAF) said on its website.
Jordanian officials were not immediately available for comment.
Earlier this month a panel of Jordanian MPs warned that “Jerusalem and Al Aqsa represent a red line”.
No vote is envisaged at the end of the Knesset debate. Mr Netanyahu is opposed to the bill and commentators say it is unlikely to attract much support.
The Al Aqsa compound, which lies in Jerusalem’s Old City, is a flashpoint because of its significance to Muslims and Jews.
Sitting above the Western Wall plaza, it houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque.
It was the site of the first and second Jewish temples and is known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: February 25, 2014 04:00 AM