Israel shuts Jerusalem holy site after unrest

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Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray in front of a barrier after Israeli border police closed one of the entrances of Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of annexed east Jerusalem. /AFP
By :

AFP

Jerusalem – Unrest at a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site led Israeli police to shut off access to it on Tuesday after several weeks of tension at the location.

Israeli police said they evacuated the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, after a Molotov cocktail damaged a police post.

Video spread online of scuffles between police and Palestinians before the site was cleared.

Three people were arrested, police said, while the Palestinian Red Crescent reported two people hurt.

Residents said police were also restricting Palestinian access to Jerusalem’s Old City, where the site is located.

The compound is the third-holiest site in Islam and a focus of Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

It is also the location of Judaism’s most sacred spot, revered as the site of the two biblical-era Jewish temples.

Jews are allowed to visit but cannot pray there and it is a frequent scene of tension.

It is located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

Recent weeks have seen scuffles over a side building at the site known as the Golden Gate.

Palestinian worshippers have been entering the site despite an Israeli order that it should stay closed.

Access to the Golden Gate was closed in 2003 during the second Palestinian intifada over alleged militant activity there, police say.

Palestinian officials argue that the organisation that prompted the ban no longer exists and there is no reason for it to remain closed.

Israel and Jordan, which is the holy site’s custodian, are believed to be holding discussions to resolve the issue.

There are concerns in Israel that tensions at the site could boil over and become a political issue ahead of April 9 Israeli elections.

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