JERUSALEM, Oct 28, 2014 (AFP) - Jerusalem's Israeli mayor visited the Al-Aqsa mosque compound Tuesday, angering Islamic authorities, but police said the day passed in "relative calm" after weeks of tension at the flashpoint shrine.
The diplomatic front was heating up, however, with the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss Israel's plans to build more Jewish settlements in Arab east Jerusalem.
On his early-morning visit, mayor Nir Barkat toured the Al-Aqsa compound with a police escort, after weeks of intermittent clashes triggered by reports Israel is considering allowing Jews to pray at the sprawling site in the Old City.
Barkat "visited the Temple Mount together with the chief of police responsible for the area to assess the current situation and gain a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges at the site," a statement said, using the Jewish term for the compound.
The Islamic Waqf, the body which oversees the site, decried the visit, saying it had not been coordinated.
It was "merely for publicity and its political nature is characteristic of" Barkat, Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Waqf, told AFP.
In a statement, the Al-Aqsa Foundation condemned what it described as the "storming" of the compound by Barkat.
"This does not give any legitimacy to considering Al-Aqsa part of the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem (Israeli) municipality, and does not erase the eternal Islamic character of the mosque," said the foundation, an offshoot of a radical branch of Israel's Islamic Movement religious advocacy group.
Tensions often erupt at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is both the third-holiest location in Islam and the most sacred place in Judaism.
A provocative visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the compound in 2000 sparked the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, a five-year uprising that left hundreds dead.
- Tensions running high -
Non-Muslim visits are permitted and regulated by police, but Jews are not allowed to pray there for fear it could trigger major disturbances, nor do they enter the mosques.
Visits by religious nationalist Israelis have triggered clashes between stone-throwing youths and police, as well as complaints from Jordan which oversees Muslim heritage sites in Jerusalem.
It was Jordan which requested the Security Council meeting at the urging of the Palestinians, to discuss Israeli settlement plans in annexed east Jerusalem, diplomats said.
Israel pledged to build more than 1,000 new settler homes in east Jerusalem on Monday, infuriating Palestinians who warned it could trigger an "explosion" of violence.
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shrugged off US and European criticism as "detached from reality".
The European Union said the plans "call once again into serious question Israel's commitment to a negotiated solution with the Palestinians," warning of consequences for EU-Israel ties.
Washington said it was "deeply concerned," adding that "moving forward with this type of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace".
Tuesday's mayoral visit, which came a day after Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah also toured the site, passed off without incident, police said, although spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said there were scattered incidents elsewhere in east Jerusalem with police firing teargas and stun grenades at Palestinian stone-throwers.
Among the trouble spots was the Silwan neighbourhood, he said, where an influx of settlers has fanned local anger.
Jerusalem's annexed Arab eastern sector has been the site of near-nightly clashes since the murder of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists in July, which intensified during the 50-day Gaza war over the summer.
Clashes again intensified last week after a Palestinian from Silwan drove his car into Jerusalem pedestrians, killing an infant and a young woman. He was shot dead by police while trying to flee the scene.