Israeli occupation police clashed with Palestinians inside Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound Wednesday after Jewish nationalists announced plans to visit the site despite weeks of soaring tensions.
The compound, which is holy to Muslims, is one of the most sensitive sites in the Middle East.
It has been the scene of frequent confrontations in recent months, largely triggered by Palestinian fears that Israel was poised to allow Jewish prayer at the site.
The latest clashes erupted after a group of hardline Jewish nationalists said they were planning to visit the plaza a week after the attempted murder of one of their leaders by a Palestinian gunman.
"Dozens of masked protesters threw stones and firecrackers at security who then entered the Temple Mount and pushed the demonstrators inside the (Al-Aqsa) mosque," police spokeswoman Luba Samri said, using the Israeli term for the compound.
In a bid to quell the disturbances, police entered "several metres" inside the Al-Aqsa mosque to remove blockages set up by the protesters in order to lock them inside, she said.
Although it was an "extremely rare" move, Samri said it was not the first time.
An AFP correspondent also reported seeing police on the roof of the mosque.
Police said the protesters had stayed in the mosque overnight to try to prevent the visit by Jewish hardliners, and had started hurling stones and firecrackers when police opened the entrance used by non-Muslims.
Police often lock protesters in the mosque when clashes erupt at the site.
Amin Abu Ghazali of the Palestinian Red Crescent told AFP that three people had been wounded by rubber bullets and another 15 people, who sustained light injuries, had been treated at the scene.
Police confirmed the arrest of 3 persons and a minor at the compound for throwing stones and threatening a police officer.
Clashes also spread into the alleys of the surrounding Old City, an AFP correspondent reported.
Israeli police fired tear gas and percussion grenades to disperse a large crowd of angry Palestinians. Dozens of children on their way to school were caught up in disturbances.
After the protesters were locked inside, the compound was reopened to visitors with around 108 Israeli Jews entering alongside 200 foreign tourists, police said.
Jerusalem governor Adnan Husseini told AFP it was the first time police had penetrated the Al-Aqsa mosque.
"This is the first time they managed to get inside the mosque and reach the pulpit," he said.
"The situation is very difficult. We are standing outside the mosque (which is locked) while they are allowing tourists inside the compound. This is Israeli democracy."
He said that during the clashes, a stun bomb had hit the mosque's electrical points, sparking a small fire which was quickly put out by those inside.
Known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, the mosque compound, which is located at the southeastern corner of the Old City, is considered the third holiest site within Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
It is also the most sacred site within Judaism as it once housed the two Jewish Temples, with a handful of ultranationalist fringe groups hoping to one day see a third Temple built there.
Last week, Yehuda Glick, a key activist in such groups, was seriously wounded in a driveby shooting by a Palestinian gunman who was later shot dead himself by anti-terror police, sparking angry riots across annexed east Jerusalem.
Shortly after Glick was shot, Israel took the unprecedented step of shutting the mosque compound to all visitors for 24 hours in a bid to calm tensions on both sides, in a move which triggered furious criticism from the Palestinians and Jordan, which has custodial rights over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
*The story was edited by Ahram online.