Police forced their way into al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, with several officers wounded after Arab Arab youths threw stones and launched fireworks at them.
Jerusalem District Police received information that some youths had barricaded themselves inside the mosque overnight and collected stones, planks, and Molotov cocktails with the purpose of altercating with police and disturbing the visits of Jews arriving at the Temple Mount complex for Tisha B'Av prayers.
Tisha B'Av is an annual fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Palestinians were angered by what they considered intrusions by Jews. Visits are allowed, but Jewish prayer at the site is prohibited.
The youths, some of whom wore face masks, created barricades to prevent the door into the mosque from being closed using shoe racks, iron rods, and ropes.
When a police team approached the mosque, the youths started throwing stones and launching fireworks at them. Police and paramilitary Border Police forces entered the complex as the rioters escaped into the mosque and threw dozens of stones and concrete blocks.
Police began to remove the barricades placed at the entrance to the mosque. They went a few meters into the mosque to shut the doors in a bid to restore calm and lock in rioters who were inside.
About 300 security personnel had entered the compound when the clashes began with a couple of hundred Palestinians, an AFP photographer reported.
The police said that after their brief foray into the mosque, they withdrew and the area was quiet. Access to the site was later restricted.
Police said the Temple Mount complex was closed on time and that during the day it was visited by some 1,200 visitors.
At least three Palestinians throwing stones were arrested and four police officers were slightly wounded.
The Jordanian government condemned the police's response. Jordan's communications minister and government spokesman, Mohammad al-Momani, criticized "Israel's provocation against Arabs and Muslims by breaking into the al-Aqsa complex."
According to al-Moman, the police activity hurt the feelings of all Arabs and Muslims and could lead to more hatred. He demanded that the Israeli government take responsibility as the "occupying power".
The Arab League also condemned the Israeli police's actions.
President Reuven Rivlin condemned the attack by the Palestinian rioters. “I express my support for the security forces, and for their determination to prevent any harm or interference to the prayers at the Western Wall, the remnant of our Temple," he said. "Such acts of hatred cannot be tolerated and we will not allow any disturbances to prevent Jews from praying at this holy site.”
Meanwhile, a Jewish youth who arrived at the entrance to the Temple Mount while wearing tefillin was detained for questioning after, according to police, he did not follow instructions.
Jerusalem police said an officer asked the youth to remove the tefillin before entering the complex, but he refused and began to go inside. Police officers approached him and asked him to return to the checkpoint, but he refused and gripped the railing, resisted, and even bit one of the police officers. The youth was arrested and taken for questioning by police.
Protests broke out in the lanes and alleyways of the Old City around the mosque, with demonstrators confronting police and chanting "Allahu Akbar" and police firing stun grenades.
Some vowed to protect Al-Aqsa, with one man saying the holy site "is in our blood."
"We are ready to die," Khaled Tuffaha, a 46-year-old Palestinian shop owner. "Everybody is ready to die."
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of Bayit Yehudi visited the Temple Mount on Sunday for the sacred day, a step that was coordinated with the Internal Security Ministry and the police.
The Jordanian government condemned the fact Jewish worshipers were allowed onto the Temple Mount, including Ariel (Bayit Yehudi).
The Palestinian foreign ministry also condemned Israeli authorities for allowing what they described as "provocative" visits by hardline Jews.
AFP contributed to this report.