Israeli police in full riot gear stormed a sensitive Jerusalem holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims on Friday after Palestinian youths hurled stones at a gate where they were stationed.
The renewed violence at the site, which is sacred to Jews and Muslims, came despite Israel temporarily halting Jewish visits, which are seen by the Palestinians as a provocation. Medics said more than two dozen Palestinians were wounded before the clashes subsided hours later.
Palestinians and Israeli police have regularly clashed at the site over the last week at a time of heightened tensions following a string of deadly attacks inside Israel and arrest raids in the occupied West Bank. Three rockets have been fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas.
Violence in recent days at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound has raised international fears of a wider conflict, after similar incidents a year ago preceded an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza militants.
A US delegation led by senior State Department official Yael Lempert embarked on a Middle East tour this week.
Meeting Israeli officials on Thursday, the American envoys stressed “the importance of upholding the historic status quo at East Jerusalem’s holy places and the unacceptable firing of rockets at Israel”.
The Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the third holiest site in Islam and is also revered by Jews.
The US visit comes as religious holidays converge, with Muslims marking Ramadan, Jews celebrating Passover and Christians observing Easter at the Old City’s sacred sites.
Washington has banned its embassy employees and their families from visiting the Old City after dark because of the security situation.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday urged the US envoys to “stop Israel’s aggression”, Palestinian official Hussein Al Sheikh said.
Israel, which has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, said it was acting “only in order to prevent violence and to enable prayer to continue as normal”.
Scenes of Israeli riot police using rubber bullets and tear gas at Al Aqsa prompted Jordan, custodian of the site, to convene an emergency meeting of Arab states on Thursday.
The delegates condemned actions by Israeli security forces and called for only Muslims to be allowed to worship at the compound.
Visits by observant Jews, who are not allowed to pray at the site, have continued this week. Such tours are expected to end for the final 10 days of Ramadan, in keeping with previous years.
Events in Jerusalem prompted Israeli nationalists to hold a rally on Wednesday at the edge of the Old City, although they were prevented by police from marching en masse through Palestinian neighbourhoods.
Palestinian medics have treated more than 200 wounded people at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound over the past week.
Separately, police said a number of passengers were hurt on Sunday when Israeli buses were stoned by Palestinians near the Old City.
The violence in Jerusalem has been followed this week by militants launching rockets from Gaza for the first time since January, sparking Israeli retaliatory strikes on the Palestinian enclave.
In the West Bank, at least 17 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces this month.
The Israeli military launched a series of raids in the territory after the killing of 14 people in four attacks in Israel over recent weeks. The perpetrators were either Palestinians from the West Bank or Arab Israelis.