Palestinians pray at al-Aqsa mosque compound Friday, March 8, 2019. Prayers passed peacefully at Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site Friday, as Jordan confirmed it was negotiating with Israel to ease mounting tensions after Israel ordered the closure of a building at the sacred compound. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Firebomb sparks unrest at sensitive Jerusalem holy site

March 12, 2019 - 9:28 am

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police on Tuesday closed the entrances to Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site after Palestinian suspects threw a firebomb at a police station.

There were no injuries reported from the firebombing. But police quickly deployed across the hilltop compound, scuffling with Palestinians in the area, as they searched for the assailants. Three suspects were arrested, and police were seen wrestling a woman to the ground.

The incident further heightened tensions at the site, which is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The spot, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and gold-topped Dome of the Rock, is a frequent flashpoint of violence.

After the incident, Israeli police sealed off entrances to the compound. Police also restricted entrance to the Old City, home to Jerusalem's most important religious sites, allowing only residents to pass through certain entrances to the Muslim and Christian quarters. Other entrances to the Old City remained open.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the "dangerous Israeli escalation" and warned of "serious repercussions." In a statement, he called on the international community to intervene.

The area has experienced a series of tense standoffs in recent weeks after Muslim worshippers reopened an area known as the "Gate of Mercy," closed by Israel in 2003.

The Waqf, a Jordanian appointed body that oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, has staged periodic prayer-protests since late February to call for the reopening of the shuttered building.

Israel closed the structure in 2003, claiming it was used by a heritage organization with ties to the Hamas militant group.

The Waqf contends that because the heritage group is now defunct, the council should regain full access to the building like any other in the holy esplanade.

Demonstrations have devolved into standoffs with police in recent weeks. Israel has barred several guards and high-ranking officials from the Waqf, the Jordanian religious authority that administers the site, from the compound and arrested dozens of Palestinians under suspicions of inciting violence at the site.

Officials in Jordan, which is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, have confirmed that they are in negotiations with Israel to resolve the dispute. Abbas' office said the Palestinians also were in touch with various sides, including Jordan.

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