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Three Turkish tourists whom Israeli authorities have arrested in Jerusalem over an incident that followed Muslim prayers at a flashpoint holy site according to a police spokesman, gesture at court in Jerusalem December 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad


JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli court on Saturday freed without charge three Turks who had been arrested on suspicion of assaulting police outside a Jerusalem holy site contested by Jews and Muslims, a police spokesman said.

The men - described by police as tourists - were taken into custody on Friday, as Israel confronted a weekly surge in protests against U.S. President Donald Trump's Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.

Bystander video appeared to show Israeli police detaining several fez-wearing men and boys in the walled Old City of East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians want as capital of their own future state.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the three Turks had tried to reach Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third-most important shrine, where "they planned on taking part in a demonstration".

Jews revere the site as the vestige of their two ancient temples, and sometimes visit under the protection of Israeli police who also guard the compound entrances - a presence resented by many Palestinians.

Rosenfeld said the three Turks "carried out an assault on police officers there". He did not elaborate on the circumstances, other than to say there were no casualties.

Brought before Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Saturday, the men did not speak from the dock. Two of them flashed four-finger hand gestures that appeared to be the so-called "Rabia sign" of solidarity with Egypt's ousted Muslim Brotherhood.

The Turks' Israeli defence lawyer, Nick Kaufman, said police asked the court to keep them in custody so charges of assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest could be brought.

"It was obvious that this was a politically charged case and the judge rightly released them," Kaufman told Reuters.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Ri8chard Balmforth)

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