JERUSALEM — Israeli police firing stun grenades faced off Sunday against masked Palestinian protesters hurling stones and plastic chairs outside the Holy Land's most volatile shrine, where past violence has escalated into prolonged conflict.
A wall of Israeli riot police behind shields marched toward young men covering their faces with T-shirts and scarves, sending many of them running for cover into the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the Islamic structures in the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
They stayed in the mosque with police outside for several hours until dispersing before nightfall. Eighteen protesters were arrested, and no serious injuries were reported. Police remained on high alert.
"Jerusalem is a red line that Israel should not cross," said Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh, condemning the Israeli police action.
A visit to the site in 2000 by Ariel Sharon, then an Israeli opposition leader and later prime minister, helped ignite deadly clashes that escalated into violence that engulfed Israel and the Palestinian territories for several years.
Sunday's disturbances were rooted in calls from Muslim leaders for their followers to protect the Islamic sites from what they said were Israeli plots to damage them or let Jews pray in the compound. There was no evidence to support either claim.
Palestinians are also angry about stalled peace talks and ongoing Israeli construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, areas they want for a future state.
Nine police officers were slightly wounded, police said. Twenty-five protesters were injured by batons or gas inhalation, said Ameen Abu Ghazaleh, head of the Palestinian Red Crescent's ambulance service.