Muslim worshippers knelt in prayer at the entrance in an attempt to prevent Jewish and Christian visitors from entering the complex, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims.
Police kicked and beat some protesters with batons while Palestinian children threw stones at the officers.
The Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, ordered the site closed to non-Muslim visitors when riots erupted between police and Muslim worshippers a day after Ariel Sharon, now the Israeli prime minister, visited in September 2000, triggering the current intifada.
Last week the Israeli government announced that it would reopen the complex to Jewish and Christian visitors for two hours every morning. The Waqf, or Muslim council, which oversees day-to-day affairs at the compound objected, complaining that it was not consulted.
The compound is known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount, having been the site of two Biblical Jewish temples. To Muslims it is the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.
Within the complex is the Dome of the Rock, or Al Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest shrine in Islam and a potent symbol of Palestinian nationhood.
Abdallah Abed al Rahman, a guard at the mosque, said: “They are abusing this sacred place. Only Muslims should be allowed here. Israel cannot just decide to reopen this site without consulting us.”
The clashes occurred as Hamas‘s military wing vowed revenge for Israel’s killing of two of its senior members in a missile strike in the Gaza Strip. At the men’s funeral yesterday the terrorist group threatened to retaliate with rocket attacks and suicide bombings.