A Palestinian man lies on an alley leading to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City after scuffles with Israeli riot police on September 14, 2015
A Palestinian man lies on an alley leading to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City after scuffles with Israeli riot police on September 14, 2015 © Thomas Coex - AFP
A Palestinian man lies on an alley leading to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City after scuffles with Israeli riot police on September 14, 2015
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Clashes rock Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa compound for second day

Muslims and Israeli police clashed at Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound for a second straight day Monday as Jews celebrated their new year and protesters vowed to protect Islam's third-holiest site.

The skirmishes drew sharp criticism from the United Nations and Washington.

As they had the day before, Israeli security forces entered the compound early Monday to prevent Muslim youths from harassing visiting Jews, police said.

Clashes then broke out on the hilltop complex, with booms heard from outside its gates. Muslims have barricaded themselves inside Al-Aqsa amid protests over access to the site, venerated by Jews as the Temple Mount.

"As the police entered the compound, masked youths fled inside the mosque and threw stones at the force," a police statement said.

The latest flare-up brought a warning from Jordan, which has historical custodianship over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

"Any more provocation in Jerusalem will affect the relationship between Jordan and Israel" which have a 1994 peace accord, King Abdullah II said after talks in Amman with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Israeli police said five protesters were arrested in the compound on Monday and visits went ahead as planned.

Four others were arrested in skirmishes between security forces and protesters in the alleys of Jerusalem's Old City.

Police fired stun grenades while hitting and kicking demonstrators and journalists, including from AFP, as they sought to push back crowds.

Muslim protesters fear Israel will seek to change rules governing the site, with far-right Jewish groups pushing for more access to the compound and even efforts by fringe organisations to erect a new temple.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the status quo will be preserved at the sensitive site, but suspicions remain among Palestinians.

- 'Playing with fire' -

"Israel is playing with fire," Palestine Liberation Organisation senior official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement on Monday.

"Clearly, Israel is deliberately creating and escalating a situation of instability, insecurity and violence, thereby incrementally assuring by force its power/security control in preparation for the total annexation and transformation of Al-Haram Al-Sharif."

Muslims refer to the entire compound as Al-Haram Al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

Non-Muslims are allowed to visit, but Jews must not pray or display national symbols for fear of triggering tensions with Muslim worshippers.

Non-Muslim visits to the site increase during Jewish holidays, with some 650 visitors on Sunday, police said. Another 500 visited on Monday during the 7:30 am to 11:00 am visiting hours.

The Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, began on Sunday evening and ends on Tuesday evening.

Far-right Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel was among Jewish activists who visited Sunday, Israeli media reported.

In comments quoted by The Jerusalem Post newspaper in 2013, Ariel said the complex "must be open for prayer at every hour to every Jew".

- Emergency cabinet meeting -

The US and the UN both urged restraint at the historic compound.

"The United States is deeply concerned by the recent violence and escalating tensions surrounding the Haram al-Sharif Temple Mount. We strongly condemn all acts of violence," State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the United Nations was also "concerned" at the violence.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon last week outlawed two Muslim groups that confront Jewish visitors to the compound, further fuelling tensions.

His office said the Murabitat and Murabitun groups were "a main factor in creating the tension and violence" there.

In clashes on Sunday, Muslim witnesses said police entered the mosque and caused damage. Police said only that they closed its doors to lock in rioters throwing stones, fireworks and other objects.

Israeli security forces have used the same tactic in the past to restore calm and which has seen them briefly enter the mosque.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas condemned Sunday's raid, saying sites such as Al-Aqsa constituted a "red line" and adding that "we will not allow attacks against our holy places".

Netanyahu, however, said "it is our responsibility and our power to act against rioters to allow freedom of worship at this holy place."

He said Israel would act "to maintain the status quo and order" at the compound.

Israel seized east Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, in the Six Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Netanyahu has called an emergency meeting of members of his cabinet on Tuesday to discuss ways to curb stone-throwing and petrol bombs following a number of recent incidents.

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