Police and protesters clash amid mounting tension at religious shrine
Tensions surrounding Jerusalem's most sensitive religious shrine erupted into conflict yesterday for the first time in months as Israeli police clashed with Palestinian youths whom they said planned to attack Jewish worshippers.
Security forces made a rare foray across the threshold of the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, to confront protesters who had barricaded themselves inside with an armoury of boulders and petrol bombs, according to police.
Inspector Mickey Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said officers were acting on intelligence that the youths planned to riot in protest at the arrival of Jews marking Tisha B'Av, a religious mourning ceremony commemorating the destruction of the two ancient Jewish temples. The temples are believed to have stood on the site of the 37-acre al-Aqsa mosque, which Jews call Temple Mount.
Four Israeli police officers were slightly injured by rocks and fireworks thrown by youths as they attempted to close the mosque doors to lock protesters inside, said Inspector Rosenfeld. "Police did not storm the mosque," he said. "They closed the doors to lock the masked protesters inside to prevent further disturbances."
It was the first serious clash at the complex since last November when Jordan - which administers the holy site - recalled its ambassador in protest over the entry of Israeli security forces into the mosque.