Palestinians pray in front of the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old city,
Palestinians pray in front of the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old CityReuters

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police erupted on Temple Mount on Monday 13 October, marking the latest dramatic scene amid a tradition of violence on one of the world's holiest sites.

Israeli police received a tip off that a group of Palestinian youths were planning to cause a disturbance on the hill top compound in the Old City of Jerusalem following morning prayers on the first day Jewish visitors have been allowed to visit the site since Wednesday 8 October.

Temple Mount, as it is known to Jews, is the holiest site in Judaism, having been the home of the two Biblical Temples before their destruction. According to some Jewish traditions it is also the place where the creation of the world began.

For Muslims, it's known as Haram al-Sharif, and the compound is home to the al-Aksa mosque. Muslim people revere the location as it is understood to be where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and it is regarded as the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina.

As expected, clashes between Arabs and Jews frequently break out at the spot, which has become a tragic allegory for religious and politically charged tensions in the Middle East.

On Monday at 7am, Israeli police stormed the compound, chasing dozens of protesters towards the al-Aksa mosque, where they barricaded themselves inside. Police found firebombs and rocks at the scene, reported Israel Radio.

After a brief altercation, the rioters were pushed back into the al-Aksa mosque, where they remain holed up and surrounded by police, in order to leave the area open to Jewish visitors.

Today's events are not even the first violent clashes in the past week. Last Wednesday, as the Jewish harvest holiday of Sukkot began, Palestinian demonstrators met with police who escorted 60 Israeli right-wingers into the compound to observe Sukkot.

Palestinian sources said Muslim worshippers were forcibly removed from the holy site and attacked with clubs. An Israeli police spokeswoman, Luba Samri, told Al Jazeera several dozen masked Palestinians threw stones, fire crackers and a firebomb (which failed to ignite) at police, who reacted by firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.

How best to counter the clashes?

One way would be to ban Jewish people from visiting the site altogether. Despite its centrality to Judaism, Jews - along with other non-Muslims - are forbidden to pray or practice any other religious rituals on the site, in what critics have condemned as police capitulation to Islamist threats.

Jewish visitors in particular are subject to strict restrictions and are closely monitored. Those suspected of uttering prayers or performing other rituals are often arrested. Despite the restrictions, both groups experience harassment, in part due to heightened tensions created by the large numbers of Israeli police atop the mount.

Temple Mount
Israeli forces at the holy site in Jerusalem, which has huge significance for both Muslim and Jewish peopleTwitter

Security arrangements on the Temple Mount are put under close scrutiny at this time of year, during a period of religious holidays in both Judaism and Islam.

The Jewish holiday of Pesach (also known as Passover), for example, saw riots by Palestinians on the site in an effort to prevent Jews from visiting during the seven-day festival.

Provocatively, an Arab MK said this week that the Temple Mount is "not holy to Jews" and so they should not be allowed to visit the site.

In an email to Jewish activist Tom Nisani, who wrote to Israel's 120 Arab and Jewish members of Knesset to complain about the site being closed to Jewish people a number of times in recent months in an effort to keep the peace, MK Taleb Abu Arar wrote: "It should be closed all the time to Jews because they have no business there."

Leading to an outcry from the Jewish population on Monday, Abu Arar said: "The al-Aqsa mosque, which sits on 144 dunams, is holy for Muslims, not Jews. Jews should find their holy places elsewhere until the coming of the messiah, as their rabbis say. I don't recognise the name Temple Mount. The Jews have nothing to look for there."

Nisani published the email to his Facebook page, calling for an end to the "racism" targeted at Jews by Arab MKs.

Meanwhile, a Jewish MK, Likud's Moshe Feiglin, visited the site on Monday and called for the removal of the protestors, which he says "must not be allowed a foothold or 'holy' places of refuge."

He said that despite the clashes seen on Monday morning, "hundreds of Jews are finally going up to the mountain in joy. Through them, the exclusive sovereignty on the mountain will be returned to the people of Israel, and the state of Israel will invite every Jew to go and pray there".