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Israel

Israeli national holiday marred by clashes

Jews sing as they march together while they participate in a march marking "Jerusalem Day", in Jerusalem's Old City June 2, 2019.
Jews sing as they march together while they participate in a march marking "Jerusalem Day", in Jerusalem's Old City June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Thousands of flag-toting Israelis marched through Jerusalem on Sunday to mark Jerusalem Day, commemorating the anniversary of Israel's capture of the city's east during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The celebrations were marred by clashes at the Old City’s Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Al-Aqsa mosque compound, after Jewish visitors were allowed into the holy site.

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It was the first time in three decades that Jews were allowed into the site, holy to both religions.

Restrictions to the Al Aqsa mosque compound were eased to allow Jews to mark Jerusalem Day, which this year coincided with the final days of Ramadan.

The flash point site is always closed to non-Muslims on the last ten days of the Muslim holy month when large numbers of worshipers are at the site.

However, following a petition by several groups to the High Court, Jewish visitors were allowed in, angering Muslim worshippers.

Police said that protesters barricaded themselves in the mosque, from where they threw chairs and stones at forces who "dispersed" them.

The Muslim Waqf organisation, which oversees the site said police used rubber bullets and pepper spray, adding that seven people were arrested and 45 were wounded. It said police shut the mosque's doors and chained them.

After the clashes, police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said calm had returned and visits continued.

'Provocative'

The status of the Al-Aqsa compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, currently being debated by the Trump administration.

The compound is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest for Muslims after Mecca and Medina.

Jews are allowed to visit the site during set hours but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions. However, Jewish visits, particularly by religious nationalists usually increase for Jerusalem Day.

Jordan, the custodian of the holy site, and a key power broker in upcoming peace talks, condemned what it said was Israel's "flagrant violations," calling the visits "provocative intrusions by extremists."

Heavy security

Sunday's Jerusalem Day march culminated in celebrations at the Western Wall--which is below the Al-Aqsa compound--where Jews are allowed to pray.

"We came to celebrate the day," said Rina Ben Shimol, who came with her husband and their three young children from Kfar Tavor in northern Israel.

She joined thousands in marching through Jerusalem, which included a route through the Muslim quarter of the Old City, and prompting the deployment of some 3,000 police.

Celebrations were held also around the city, including a flag dance and a state ceremony, at which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to attend.

Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political survival after failing to form a coalition government, fired two prominent ministers Sunday ahead of general elections set for September, the second time the country will go to the polls this year.

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