JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Clashes broke out early Wednesday at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli police officers, leaving dozens hurt, sources said.
Security guards at the mosque told Ma'an that Israeli forces stormed the compound at 7:30 a.m. ahead of expected visits by right-wing Israelis on the occasion of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of the Tabernacles.
Israeli forces forcibly removed worshipers, attacking some of them with clubs, the guards said.
Some Muslim worshipers clashed with Israeli officers in the compound before managing to take refuge inside the mosque.
As worshipers threw stones, soldiers fired tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets, injuring dozens of Palestinians, Al-Aqsa Mosque director Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani said.
Some of the stun grenades were fired into the Al-Aqsa Mosque itself, causing a fire to break out, and fire fighters were not immediately allowed access to the area, al-Kiswani added.
"The compound is almost empty of Muslim worshipers, while Israeli forces allowed herds of extremists to storm it and move freely," he said.
Witnesses said that eventually Israeli forces succeeded in forcefully removing Palestinians from the compound, besides those who had taken refuge in the mosque itself.
Instead, they closed the doors of the mosque and locked them with chains, trapping worshipers inside, the witnesses said.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld tweeted about the incident, saying "masked Arabs" threw "stones/blocks/iron bars" at Israeli forces near the Moroccan gate.
Three police officers were lightly injured, Rosenfeld said.
Since Tuesday morning, Israeli forces have restricted access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, only allowing Palestinian worshipers aged 60 and up to enter. Elderly men and women have had to leave their identity cards with the police officers at the entrances of the compound.
Photos provided by the Israeli police show officers at the Al-Aqsa compound on Oct. 8, 2014
New entrance for non-Muslims
Israeli army radio announced earlier this week that the ministry of tourism was working on a plan to allow Jews to enter the Al-Aqsa compound through the Cotton Merchants Gate, in addition to the Moroccan Gate which is already used as an entrance for non-Muslims.
The announcement was greeted with harsh backlash from Palestinians.
The Palestinian legal counselor of Jerusalem affairs, Ahmad Ruwaidi, said that the Islamic endowment department in charge of the mosque compound has received no notice of any such plan.
Ruwaidi said the announcement was "unacceptable," calling Palestinian religious sites a "red line" and saying the move would harm the peace process.
Taleb Abu Arar, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, also said in a statement that opening an additional gate for Jews to enter the Al-Aqsa compound was the equivalent of opening a "gate to war."
PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi also weighed in, saying: "Israel is creating a new reality at the expense of Palestinians, their religious rights, sites, and historical identity."
"They are violating the sanctity of religious sites without consequences, which completely terminates possibilities for peace and will ultimately drag the whole region into disastrous clashes," Ashrawi said in a statement.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque is sensitive for Palestinians due to its status as the third holiest site in Islam and its location in the heart of the Old City of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its "eternal, undivided capital," but the international community sees East Jerusalem as Palestinian territory and the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount, is also the holiest site in Judaism.
But mainstream Jewish leaders forbid Jews from entering, for fear they would profane the inner sanctum of the Second Temple they believe was once located at the site.
Right-wing Jews, however, often visit the compound under armed guard by Israeli forces, leading to regular clashes with Palestinian worshipers.