JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli riot police faced off with fireworks-hurling Palestinians in the alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday as a visit by Jews to a disputed holy site stoked tensions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Violence at the Al Aqsa mosque compound, which erupted on Friday, has raised fears about a slide back into deeper conflict over the site as Ramadan coincides with the Jewish festival of Passover. Christians also marked Easter in Jerusalem on Sunday.
Sunday’s confrontations were less violent, but Israeli police said several passengers on two buses had been lightly wounded when stone-throwing Palestinians smashed the vehicles’ windows. Nine people were arrested, police said.
Palestinians said Israeli police had temporarily limited their access to the compound – which is also a vestige of ancient Jewish temples – after dawn prayers to enable a scheduled visit by Jews who toured the site on foot under guard.
Such visitors are barred from praying or nearing Al Aqsa – Islam’s third-holiest mosque, but Palestinians deem them a provocation.
The Old City lies in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians seek to make the capital of a future state.
“We saw two groups of them, we started to chant and the (Israeli) forces tried to detain me,” said Abu Baker Shemi, a Muslim worshipper from Acre, a mixed Jewish-Arab town in Israel.
Police said they took measures to prevent the disruption of the visit by “hundreds” of protesters, some of them masked, who were seen stockpiling rocks on the compound. Muslim freedom of worship was being preserved, police said.
Tensions over Jerusalem fanned an 11-day war last May between Israel and Hamas Islamist militants in the Gaza Strip that killed more than 250 Palestinians in Gaza and 13 people in Israel.
Hamas said in a statement that “the continued attacks on worshippers will backfire on (Israel)”.
The Palestinian Authority, which governs in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said the events at the Al Aqsa compound had “unified” Palestinians.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Helen Popper)