UNITED NATIONS - A senior UN official told the Security Council Tuesday that he is gravely concerned over the violence and continuing clashes in and around the holy sites of the Old City of Jerusalem, and urged all leaders to ensure that visitors and worshippers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area.

Clashes erupted after Israeli soldiers stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Saturday and are continuing with of varying degree of intensity because of the sweeping restrictions on entry into the mosque compound which Israel has applied. Since then, the Israeli Government has decreed an entry ban to the compound and the Temple Mount area to members of Muslim and Jewish groups considered to be extremist.

“As the Middle East faces a vicious tide of terror and extremism, such serious provocations have the potential to ignite violence well beyond the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem,” Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Council, speaking via video conference from Jerusalem.

“I urge all political, community and religious leaders to ensure that visitors and worshippers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area,” he said, stressing that all sides have a responsibility to refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric.

“Against this backdrop, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has left an indelible scar on the people and landscape of this region,” the envoy underlined. “Frustration, fear and violence have continued to spiral, undermining belief in finding a way out of the impasse.”

He informed the 15-member body that over the last three months, the Middle East Quartet [comprising the European Union, Russia, the United States and the UN] has actively consulted with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and key international partners on how to preserve the two-State solution and establish conditions for the parties to return to meaningful negotiations.

“All of our discussions have highlighted the region’s determination to play a constructive role in resolving the conflict,” Mladenov noted. “But the message from all could not be more clear: patience is running out.”

“A comprehensive approach must be advanced, consisting of bold, concrete actions on the ground, in the region and internationally. It will necessitate significant policy shifts by Israel as well as an unflinching commitment on the Palestinian side to achieving genuine national unity,” he added.

However, despite efforts by Israel in recent months to ease some restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza, Mladenov described the situation on the ground as “precarious.”

This past month, clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank continued, injuring one Palestinian and four Israelis. The UN reported that 115 Palestinians were injured by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) while six members of the Israeli security forces were injured by Palestinians. In the West Bank, Israeli security forces arrested 282 Palestinians.

“Also deeply troubling is the continuing Israeli policy of settlement construction and demolishing of Palestinian-owned structures in Area C of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” Mladenov continued. “I call upon Israel to freeze demolitions, to reverse ‘relocation’ plans and – critically – to expedite approval of outstanding planning submissions and enable community-led planning processes.”

He recalled that since his last briefing, some 50 Palestinian structures have been demolished. “I am alarmed that the calendar month of August saw the highest number of demolitions since June 2010, with 142 Palestinian-owned structures demolished and over 200 Palestinians displaced.”

Meanwhile, in Gaza, power outages have reportedly been averaging 12 to 16 hours per day, and 40,000 public sector employees have not received full salaries for one year.

On a more positive note, Mladenov said the reconstruction of Gaza following last year’s conflict in the enclave is picking up speed, with some 94,000 homeowners having procured construction material to repair their homes.

The envoy said the UN will continue to support the efforts of the legitimate Palestinian institutions and to reach out to all factions in order to ensure that the humanitarian, social and economic challenges of Gaza are addressed.

Palestinians and Israeli security forces clashed in Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound and the surrounding Old City for a third straight day on Tuesday despite international calls for calm.

Young demonstrators gathered around the mosque threw stones at police who had entered the compound in large numbers and responded with stun grenades.

Police said they cleared debris from the entrance of the mosque and closed the door on those inside who had been throwing stones, fireworks and other objects at security forces.

The Jordanian-run Waqf organisation which administers the site said that police entered deep inside the mosque and caused damage.

Amman said Israel’s actions amount to “aggression” against Arab and Muslim nations, and said it was examining legal and diplomatic means to protect religious sites in the Holy City.

Jordan has custodianship rights over Muslim holy places in Jerusalem under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

The protesters fear Israel is seeking to change rules governing the site which allow Jews to visit but not pray, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the status quo will be preserved.

Israeli police said youths barricaded themselves inside the mosque overnight as they had over the two previous days with the aim of disrupting visits by Jews to the compound.

Masked protesters threw stones towards the gate when regular visits began on Tuesday morning, police said.