JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli police at a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem on Wednesday, leaving three officers lightly injured, a police spokeswoman said.
The clashes erupted after several dozen masked Palestinians began throwing rocks, firecrackers and other pyrotechnical devices at police when the site — known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — opened for prayers on Wednesday morning, said spokeswoman Luba Samri.
There was no immediate information on whether any Palestinian protesters were hurt.
Police chased the demonstrators toward the Al-Aqsa mosque, where they barricaded themselves inside and continued hurling objects in the direction of the police, said Samri.
The site is the holiest in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, and is a frequent flashpoint for demonstrations.
Samri said the violence began as the masked Palestinians threw rocks at tourists and Jewish Israelis who visited the site early Wednesday, before the start of the Jewish festival of Sukkot at nightfall. Palestinians view such visits as a provocation and often respond violently.
Samri said the Palestinians had prepared for the confrontation ahead of time, and had set up obstacles at the holy site to slow down police. She said the Palestinians threw firebombs and rocks at police from within the mosque.
Police responded with "nonlethal riot control means," Samri said, without elaborating. Three police officers were hurt and 15 Palestinians were arrested, she said.
A radical Islamic cleric in Israel, Raed Salah, had called on Muslims to be present at the mosque Wednesday morning. About 30 young Palestinians slept the night before at the mosque in preparation for the confrontation, according to Palestinian eyewitnesses.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel for the friction at the holy site, saying that it was deliberately raising tensions there.
"The Israeli attacks on Al-Aqsa mosque, led by settlers and extremists, and under the auspices of the Israeli government, have recently increased and intensified," Abbas said.
An Israeli Tourism Ministry decision earlier this week to expand the entrance to the Jerusalem site was condemned by Palestinian officials as a unilateral change in the status of the sensitive holy site.
Tensions have been high in Jerusalem since Hamas militants abducted and killed three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank in June and Jewish extremists killed a young Palestinian several weeks later, in an apparent revenge attack. Those events helped precipitate the 50-day-long Gaza war that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, according to the U.N., and 72 on the Israeli side — all but six soldiers. The war ended Aug. 26.