JERUSALEM — Muslim worshippers and Israeli police clashed Sunday at a major Jerusalem holy site during prayers marking the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Palestinian medics said at least 14 people were wounded, one seriously, in the skirmishes with police at the site, which Muslims refer to as the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and Jews refer to as the Temple Mount. Police said at least four officers were wounded. Witnesses said at least two people were arrested.
Clouds of tear gas swirled and stun grenades thundered across the stone-paved esplanade as masses of worshippers skirmished with police in the worst bout of fighting at the contested holy site in months.
The clashes came amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, just days after an Israeli soldier was killed south of Jerusalem. On Saturday, Israeli troops killed four Palestinian militants who attempted to cross the Gaza border fence.
Tens of thousands of Muslims had flocked to the site in Jerusalem’s Old City early Sunday for holiday prayers, police said. Jews are also observing on Sunday the Ninth of Av, a day of fasting and mourning for the destruction of the two Biblical temples which stood at the site in antiquity.
The site is the holiest for Jews and the third holiest for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, and has long been a flashpoint at the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jordan, which serves as the custodian of the holy site, said in a statement that it had sent a formal complaint to Israel and condemned what it called Israel’s “irresponsible provocations.” Sufian al-Qudah, a spokesman for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, said Amman holds Israel completely responsible for the violence.
Large numbers of Palestinians had gathered at the gates of the compound early Sunday after rumors circulated that police would allow Jewish visitors to enter the site. The protesters chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and threw stones at police, who then charged into the compound while firing stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.
Israeli police had initially barred entry to Jewish visitors, but reversed their decision after the clashes broke out and allowed them to enter.
Several dozen entered the site under close police escort and Muslim worshippers began throwing chairs and other objects at the group. The Jewish visitors left the compound shortly thereafter.
Jerusalem District police commander Doron Yedid told Israeli media that the decision to allow Jewish visitors to enter the site was made “with the backing of the top political officials.”