Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 5 December 2019

Israelis fire sound grenades at Al Aqsa mosque worshippers

Overlapping Jewish and Muslim holidays heightened tension around the site

Israeli police and Palestinian worshippers clashed at Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Sunday as overlapping Jewish and Muslim holidays heightened tension around the site.

Police fired sound grenades as Palestinian protests intensified at the highly sensitive mosque compound, also called the Haram Al Sharif.

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported 61 Palestinians were wounded, 15 of whom were taken to hospitals.

Sunday marked the start of Eid Al Adha and thousands of Palestinians prayed at Al Aqsa mosque.

It coincided with the Jewish Tisha B'av holiday, which typically involves an increase in Jewish visits to the holy site.

In a bid to ease tension, police barred Jewish visits to the site on Sunday but Muslim worshippers still feared they would be allowed in and protested.

After relative calm returned and following criticism from Israeli far-right politicians, police then opened the site to Jewish visits, sparking further clashes.

Israelis police said four officers were wounded as Palestinian protesters threw stones and other objects at security forces. Seven people were arrested, police said.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior leader in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said Israel was "fueling religious tensions in Jerusalem" and that Israeli officials would be "fully responsible for its grave consequences".

About 1,300 Jews visited the site on Sunday, according to the Muslim Waqf organisation, which oversees the holy compound.

Jordan, the site's custodian, condemned Israel's "continuous violations" there.

The compound, which includes the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is one of the most sensitive sites in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is the third-holiest site in Islam.

It is in East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

Jews are allowed to visit but not pray there to avoid provoking violence.

The clashes came just weeks ahead of Israeli parliamentary elections on September 17, and are likely to place further pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from far-right politicians to increase Jewish access to the site.

Mr Netanyahu is widely regarded as trying to maintain calm in the run-up to the polls, particularly around the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

His government has been maintaining a fragile truce with militant group Hamas that rules the territory.

On Sunday, Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border shot dead a Palestinian who they said had opened fire at them in the third such incident this month. The army said a tank also fired on at nearby Hamas military post.

On Saturday, troops shot dead four Palestinians on the Gaza border. Hamas denied any connection with either of the attacks.

On August 1, a Palestinian seeking to avenge his brother's death by Israeli fire entered Israel from Gaza and opened fire on soldiers, wounding three before he was killed.

Updated: August 12, 2019 02:01 PM

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