JERUSALEM • Israeli police entered Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites, as clashes erupted yesterday over Jews' access to the compound on an annual day of Jewish mourning.
Palestinians threw stones and fireworks while police fired stun grenades after security forces entered the Al-Aqsa compound before briefly going inside the mosque itself.
Police said they went a few metres 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.
The Palestinian foreign ministry condemned the Israeli authorities for allowing what they described as "provocative" visits to the compound by hardline Jews.
It was the first time Israeli security forces had entered the mosque since last November, when clashes with worshippers also erupted.
There were multiple casualties and arrests over the clashes, which came as Jews sought access to the mosque compound on Tisha B'av, a day of mourning for Jerusalem's two destroyed Biblical temples.
Palestinians were angered by what they considered intrusions by Jews. Visits are allowed, but Jewish prayer at the site is prohibited.
Tensions were already high after a Jewish woman publicly made insulting comments about the Prophet Muhammad earlier this month.
The hilltop compound in Jerusalem's Old City, one of the biggest flashpoints in the Middle East, is the most sacred site in Judaism and Islam's third holiest, after Mecca and Medina. Jews refer to the site as the Temple Mount.
After the brief foray by police, protests broke out in the lanes around the mosque and surrounding area, 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," said Mr Khaled Tuffaha, a 46-year-old Palestinian shop owner. "Everybody is ready to die."
Police said a young Jewish man attempted to enter while wearing phylacteries - small leather boxes containing sacred texts worn by Orthodox men at prayer. When told to remove them, the man resisted and grabbed hold of railings, biting a policeman who tried to remove him before he was arrested.
At least three stone-throwers were arrested and four police officers were lightly wounded, the authorities said.
Israel seized East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its indivisible capital, but the Palestinians claim the eastern sector as capital of their promised state.