After police managed to contain Muslim riots near the Temple Mount in protest of Israeli excavations there, Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi explained the disturbances were sparked by a group of masked youths who managed to infiltrate the site despite the over-45 age restriction.
A week of tensions reached its peak Friday afternoon, when police forced their way into the Temple Mount compound, firing stun grenades at rioters who hurled stones, Molotov cocktails and metal shards at policemen shortly after Friday prayers ended.
Police forces prepare to storm Temple Mount (Photo: Haim Tzach)
Five Arab youths were arrested outside the Old City, police said, for hurling stones and inciting for violence. A total of 17 arrests were made.
A number of worshipers who barricaded themselves inside the al-Aqsa Mosque to avoid police arrest were convinced by Arab MKs to vacate peacefully after police officer promised not to arrest them for throwing stones.
Over 3,000 policemen were deployed in Jerusalem as police raised the level of alert. The controversial excavations were paused for the weekend, but were slated to resume Sunday. Until then, Karadi said, the police would assess the circumstances and make recommendations according to their conclusions.
Break-in 'complex but justified'
Jerusalem District Police chief Ilan Franco noted that the police’s decision to “break into the Temple Mount compound was difficult and complex – but justified.”
“Police were on high alert all week and have enforced age restrictions for entry to the site since Sunday. We were on the highest alert today. We knew today’s events were planned and would test our forces,” Franco said.
Police said all forces would leave the Temple Mount complex once the group evacuates the mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine.
The Waqf, the religious Muslim endowment that rules the Temple Mount, warned police against storming the mosque to nab the suspects.
Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh demanded that Israel withdraw its "occupation forces" from the Temple Mount and "occupied Jerusalem," describing the police's confrontation with rioters as a deliberate act of aggression.
"This government is determined to play with fire that will spill blood ... It is the Palestinians' right to protest at the provocative works near the al-Aqsa Mosque," Barakeh added.
Protesters gather outside the Temple Mount (Photo: Haim Tzach)
Police said 15 policemen have been lightly injured from stones and Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall plaza were evacuated when violence broke out.
An unidentified number of Arabs from east Jerusalem were also injured. Their conditions remain unknown.
Police said they regained control of the area but television footage showed a number of men hurling stones at policemen from within the complex.
Protests reach Jenin, Tul Karem
A group of rioters hurled three Molotov cocktails at a police force stationed at the Old City's Lions' Gate, but no injuries were reported.
Over 6,000 Muslim worshipers congregated on the Temple Mount for Friday prayers, which ended shortly before 1 pm.
Police limited access to Friday prayers to men over 45 years of age in possession of Israeli IDs. In a further attempt to defuse tensions, the excavations under the Mugrabi Gate were ordered halted Friday and Saturday.
Police also raised the level of alert in the Galilee over plans by the Islamic Movement to hold a mass protest against the excavations in Nazareth on Friday afternoon.
Karadi ordered hundreds of policemen from across the country to head to Nazareth in anticipation of possible riots there.
The protests reached the West Bank towns of Jenin and Tul Karem where thousands of angry Palestinians thronged the streets shouting slogans against Israel and demanding the renovation work be stopped.
Ali Waked contributed to this report