al-aqsa mosque Jerusalem
Israeli security forces stand guard near Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa mosque compoundAhmad Gharabli/AFP

Tensions ran high at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque after Palestinians clashed with Israeli police on the premises of the third holiest Islamic site on Sunday, 13 September. Police had to use tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the rioters, hours ahead of the Jewish New Year celebrations.

According to reports, witnesses said that police had entered the mosque and closed its doors to prevent rioters from throwing stones and homemade missiles. Authorities claimed that rioters had barricaded themselves in the mosque overnight in order to disrupt visits by Jews ahead of the start of the New Year celebrations on Sunday evening.

Reports suggest that the disturbances could be the outcome of Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon's decision to outlaw two Muslim groups – Murabitat and Murabitun – that often confront Jewish visitors entering the compound. His office had then said that the groups were "a main factor in creating the tension and violence".

Meanwhile, a police statement issued on Sunday read: "Masked protesters who were inside the mosque threw stones and fireworks at police. Suspect pipes that could be filled with homemade explosives were also found at the entry to the mosque."

Further, a Muslim witness was quoted as saying that the police had forcibly entered one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem and burned prayer mats, which led to clashes outside the mosque complex and police had to use tear gas and stun grenades to disperse rioters.

The mosque has been embroiled in controversy as non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site, but Jews are forbidden from praying or displaying national symbols, which often lead to deadly fights.

The mosque is of religious significance to both Muslims and Jews and in July this year, a 20-year-old woman identified as Avia Morris was arrested after she was allegedly heard shouting "Muhammad is a pig" in a video.