Israeli police have beefed up forces in east Jerusalem and blocked busloads of Muslim pilgrims headed to the Al-Aqsa mosque for the holiest night of Ramadan, threatening to escalate already heightened religious tensions that have unleashed the worst unrest in the holy city in years.
Police defended their actions as security moves, but these were seen as provocations by Muslims who accuse Israel of threatening their freedom of worship.
Competing claims in east Jerusalem, home to the city's most sensitive Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites, lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have triggered major rounds of violence in the past.
Police chief Koby Shabtai said he was deploying more police in Jerusalem following a night of heavy clashes on Friday between Palestinians and Israeli police. Israelis and Palestinians were bracing for more violence in the coming days.
Saturday night is "Laylat al-Qadr" or the "Night of Destiny," the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Islamic authorities estimated 90,000 people were gathered for intence night prayers at Al-Aqsa.
"The right to demonstrate will be respected but public disturbances will be met with force and zero tolerance. I call on everyone to act responsibly and with restraint," Shabtai said.
Late Saturday, police clashed with Palestinian protesters outside the Old City's Damascus Gate after being pelted with water bottles. Police fired stun grenades and a water cannon as they moved through the area.
Earlier, police reported clashes in the Old City, near Al-Aqsa, and in the nearby east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where dozens of Palestinians are fighting attempts by Israeli settlers to evict them from their homes.
Police reported several arrests, and Palestinian medics said two protesters were hospitalised after being beaten by police. Police said one officer was wounded after being struck in the face with a rock.
On Sunday evening, Jewish Israelis begin marking "Jerusalem Day," a national holiday in which Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city.
On Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the planned evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.
In Friday night's violence, Palestinian medics said more than 200 Palestinians were wounded in clashes at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and elsewhere in Jerusalem. The violence drew condemnations from Israel's Arab allies and calls for calm from the United States and Europe and the United Nations, and prompted the Arab League to schedule an emergency meeting on Monday.
Police said 18 officers were injured.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the biblical temples. It has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was the epicentre of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Australian Associated Press