JERUSALEM — A contentious Jerusalem holy site was calm Wednesday after three days of clashes between Muslims and Israeli forces at the hilltop compound and following a spurt of Palestinian attacks against Israelis that killed one citizen during a Jewish holiday.
Israeli armed forces deployed at the entrance to the compound and adjacent to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where Muslim demonstrators clashed with Israeli forces over the last three days throughout the Jewish new year holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Police appeared cautious not to inflame the situation by getting too close to the mosque.
The fate of the compound in Jerusalem's Old City is a core issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the site of the two biblical Jewish temples. Muslims revere it as the Noble Sanctuary, where they believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Non-Muslim visitors are only allowed to enter the site at specific hours and are banned by police from praying there.
Twenty religious Jewish visitors toured the site in small groups early Wednesday, accompanied by Muslim authorities who administer the compound and Israeli officers. A group of Muslim women sitting near the mosque chanted religious slogans in protest as some of the Jewish groups passed by.
The site is revered by both Muslims and Jews and is a frequent flashpoint for tensions. Jews are permitted to visit the hilltop compound but banned from praying there.
Muslim officials at the site said 130 Jewish visitors toured there Sunday, the eve of the Jewish new year. It was a large number compared to the scant dozen who usually visit daily, and it triggered the demonstrations by Muslims, the officials said.
Muslims see Jewish visits to the site as encroachment on their holy site.
Police had entered the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in previous days to disperse protesters who had holed up inside after hurling rocks, concrete blocks and firebombs at officers. The Israeli response sparked condemnations across the Arab world and concern that the tensions could spiral out of control.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the clashes in particularly harsh language Wednesday, insisting that none of Jerusalem's holy sites belonged to Israel.
"They are all ours and we will not let them desecrate it with their filthy foot," he said. "We will protect Jerusalem and will protect our Christian and Muslim holy sites. We will not leave our homeland. We will remain holding every atom of soil in this homeland."
Elsewhere in Jerusalem, tensions have been high following the death of an Israeli after Palestinians pelted his car with rocks. Several Israeli civilians and police have been injured in attacks by Palestinians this week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an emergency meeting Tuesday night where he vowed tougher measures to curb the violence and on Wednesday he visited the site where the 64-year-old Israeli died in his car after being attacked by rock-throwing Palestinians.
"We are changing policy. The situation that exists is unacceptable and we plan to give soldiers and police officers tools to act forcefully against those who throw stones and firebombs," Netanyahu said. "This rock was one rock too many. We declare war on the rock throwers, the firebomb throwers and the other outlaws."
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told Israel's Army radio Wednesday that "the approach will be that anyone who holds a rock or a firebomb will be considered someone who is holding a murder weapon."