Videos showed dozens of Israeli police on the grounds outside the mosque just after sunrise on Thursday as Palestinians fired fireworks at them from inside the building. Other videos showed police firing stun grenades.
Later, around 7:30 a.m., a group of Jewish visitors entered the area, many of them in religious attire, protected by Israeli security forces.
The hilltop is sacred to both Muslims and Jews and has been a hotspot for decades. Jews call it the Temple Mount and honor it as the place where the first and second temples stood. Muslims refer to it as Haram al Sharif and believe that it is the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
Since 1967, events have been governed by a ‘status quo’ concept, which allows only Muslims to pray on site, even though everyone is allowed to visit at certain times. In an effort to reduce tensions, and in line with similar Israeli government decisions in recent years, from today there will be no further visits by Jewish groups before the end of Ramadan – in about ten days.
“As in recent days, dozens of offenders and masked men this morning, at the end of the dawn prayer, rioted and disrupted order on the Temple Mount with serious violence,” an Israeli police statement said Thursday.
Police described the recent draft of fireworks inside the mosque, at least one of which caused a small fire in a carpet, as a desecration. Allegations that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is being degraded are regularly tossed between the two sides, with Palestinians and others saying Israeli security forces are contaminating the building as they set foot inside it.
Israel blames Hamas for inciting Palestinians over the mosque and believes the militant group is considering escalating the conflict over Gaza as well. On Thursday night, at least five rockets were fired from the coastal enclave at Israel. The Israeli military said most were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.
Israeli warplanes carried out subsequent airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza, the military said. An attack hit the entrance to an underground facility involved in the manufacture of rocket engines, it said. There are no reports from Gaza of casualties.
Earlier, Wednesday night, tensions rose in Jerusalem as Jewish nationalists, led by extremist lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, tried to march on the Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to the old city used by Palestinians.
Police had refused to give permission for the march and managed to prevent the main group of mostly young men from coming to the Gate, but later there were minor clashes in the narrow streets of the old city between Jewish nationalists, local Palestinians and Israeli police.
In a video, a group of nationalists break into a song about “Death to Arabs” while surrounding Palestinian men at a food stall and start pushing them around.
The city has been on edge for the past week with periodic clashes erupting on or around the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Friday saw the most serious unrest as more than 150 Palestinians were injured, the Palestinian Red Crescent said, along with several police officers. None of the injuries were life-threatening, reports suggested.