Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday as thousands gathered for prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.
Medics said more than 150 Palestinians were wounded in the most serious violence at the site in nearly a year.
The holy site, which is sacred to Jews and Muslims, has often been the epicenter of Israeli-Palestinian unrest, and tensions were already heightened amid a recent wave of violence. Clashes at the site last year helped spark an 11-day war with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
The clashes come at a particularly sensitive time. Ramadan this year coincides with Passover, a major weeklong Jewish holiday beginning Friday at sundown, and Christian holy week, which culminates on Easter Sunday. The holidays are expected to bring tens of thousands of faithful into Jerusalem’s Old City, home to major sites sacred to all three religions.
Hours after the clashes began, the police said they had put an end to the violence and arrested “hundreds” of suspects. The mosque was re-opened, and some 60,000 people attended the main Friday prayers midday, according to the Islamic endowment that administers the site.
Israeli authorities said that before the violence broke out they had held negotiations with Muslim leaders to ensure calm. But the police say Palestinians stockpiled rocks and other objects inside the compound and hurled stones at the Mughrabi Gate, which leads to the Western Wall - a major Jewish holy site - triggering the violence, The AP reported.
Palestinians threw rocks and fireworks, and police fired tear gas and stun grenades on the sprawling esplanade surrounding the mosque. A large group of Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the mosque as they fought Israeli security forces.
Israeli police later entered the mosque and arrested people inside. Israeli security forces rarely enter the building, and when they do it is seen by Palestinians as a major escalation.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said it treated 152 people, many of them wounded by rubber-coated bullets or stun grenades, or beaten with batons. The endowment said one of the guards at the site was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet.
The Israeli police said three officers were wounded from “massive stone-throwing,” with two evacuated from the scene for treatment.
The mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. It is built on a hilltop in Jerusalem’s Old City that is the most sacred site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the site of the Jewish temples in antiquity. It has been a major flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence for decades and was the epicenter of the 2000-2005 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.