Israeli police on Sunday imposed severe entry restrictions on Palestinians to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound ahead of an eight-day Jewish festival.
Israeli police prevented all Palestinian men under 50 from accessing the site while holding the IDs of those men that were allowed to enter. There were no age restrictions on Palestinian women.
Witnesses said that large numbers of Palestinian men performed evening prayers outside the mosque compound’s gates after they were prevented from entering.
Earlier Sunday saw clashes across the compound after Israeli police stormed the holy site and fired rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades at Palestinian protesters.
During the four-day Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday that ended Sunday, non-Muslims were prevented from accessing the compound, while age restrictions on Palestinians were lifted.
However, tensions rose sharply ahead of the eight-day Jewish Sukkut festival, which began Sunday evening and is expected to see large numbers of Jews visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Palestinian protesters on Sunday were reportedly preparing “to defend” the compound during the festival, stocking stones inside the southern mosque and planning to sleep in it.
Earlier this month, the holy site was rocked by three days of fierce clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, as police stormed the compound to clear the way for Jews seeking to celebrate the Jewish new year holiday.
As now, Palestinians reportedly spent the night inside the compound’s southern mosque. During the clashes, Israeli police entered the mosque’s interior.
Right-wing Jewish organizations have reportedly called on Jews to visit the compound in coming days, while Palestinian leaders in Israel have called on Palestinians to “protect” the mosque compound “in masses.”
Palestinians have expressed fears that Israel is seeking 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.
Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the compound, but are not allowed to pray or display national symbols, under an agreement between Israel and the Islamic Endowment that controls the site.
Since the clashes earlier this month, Israel’s security cabinet has broadened the rules under which stone-throwers can be targeted by live fire and has announced a minimum four-year prison sentence for those found guilty of stone-throwing.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office on Thursday said that the use of .22 caliber bullets would be allowed in occupied East Jerusalem in circumstances Israeli forces determine as life-threatening.
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said Saturday that the new regulations represented “a culture of hate that dehumanizes a whole nation.”