Violent clashes erupt at Jerusalem’s holiest site


By MATTI FRIEDMAN (AP) – 9 hours ago

A Palestinian youth marks a V sign during clashes with Israeli policemen in the Arab neighborhood of Ras Al Amud in east Jerusalem, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009. Israeli forces stormed the Jerusalem’s holiest shrine, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, Sunday, firing stun grenades to disperse hundreds of Palestinian protesters who were pelting them with stones. (AP

JERUSALEM — Israeli police firing stun grenades faced off Sunday against masked Palestinian protesters hurling stones and plastic chairs outside the Holy Land’s most volatile shrine, where past violence has escalated into prolonged conflict.

A wall of Israeli riot police behind plexiglass shields marched toward young men covering their faces with T-shirts and scarves, sending many of them running for cover into the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the Islamic structures in the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

They remained holed up in the mosque with police outside for several hours until dispersing before nightfall. Eighteen protesters were arrested, and no serious injuries were reported. But even mild troubles at the disputed compound in Jerusalem’s Old City can quickly ignite widespread unrest, and police remained on high alert.

“Jerusalem is a red line that Israel should not cross,” said Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh, condemning the Israeli police action.

A visit to the site in 2000 by Ariel Sharon, then an Israeli opposition leader and later prime minister, helped ignite deadly clashes that escalated into violence that engulfed Israel and the Palestinian territories for several years.

Sunday’s disturbances were rooted in calls from Muslim leaders for their followers to protect the Islamic sites from what they said were Israeli plots to damage them or let Jews pray in the compound. There was no evidence to support either claim.

Palestinians are also angry about stalled peace talks and ongoing Israeli construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, areas they want for a future state.

Stoking tensions, a group of hardline settlers and rabbis met in Jerusalem on Sunday evening calling on Jews to pray at the site. Most rabbis, however, say the place is so holy that Jews should not even set foot there. Police allow only Muslims to worship in the compound and say that practice will be enforced.

Israel has controlled the site since 1967, but has left day-to-day administration in the hands of a Muslim clerical body, the Waqf. Israelis and tourists are allowed to visit at certain times.

Israel’s national police chief, David Cohen, accused a small group of Muslim extremists of trying to foment violence.

“The police will act with a strong hand against anyone who disrupts order on the Temple Mount and against those incite to riot,” Cohen said.

The Jerusalem holy site is a hot-button issue for Muslims worldwide, and the Palestinian condemnation was quickly taken up abroad. The head of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference warned that any provocative act by Israel “would bear grave consequences,” while the Arab League called on the U.N. to “stop the Israeli aggressions.” Egypt urged Israel to refrain from actions with “negative repercussions” for the region.

The Islamic militant Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, called on Palestinians to rise up against Israel and urged Arab countries that have ties to Israel to sever them.

Nine police officers were lightly wounded and 18 protesters were detained, police said. The Palestinian president’s adviser on Jerusalem affairs and a leader from Israel’s Islamic Movement were arrested for alleged incitement, police said.

A total of 25 protesters were injured by batons or gas inhalation, said Ameen Abu Ghazaleh, head of the Palestinian Red Crescent’s ambulance service. An Australian journalist covering the clash was struck in the face by a rock and lightly wounded, Israeli police said.

The disputing claims to the man-made platform in Jerusalem’s Old City lie at the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is revered as the holiest site in Judaism, home to two biblical Temples, and Jews pray at the foot of the compound at the Western Wall.

In the Islamic tradition, it is the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven in a nighttime journey recounted in the Quran, and is considered the third-holiest site after the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina.

Israel has carried out numerous archaeological digs in nearby areas, but has denied Palestinian allegations that the work could endanger the compound.

The Palestinians seek to make east Jerusalem — including the holy compound — the capital of a future independent state. Israel’s government says it will not share control of the holy city.

Associated Press Writers Michael Barajas and Dalia Nammari contributed to this report.

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After two weeks of quiet, violence flares again on Temple Mount
By Liel Kyzer, Avi Issacharoff and Jack Khoury
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After two weeks of relative quiet in the Jerusalem area, disturbances again broke out in the city and its periphery yesterday morning. Shortly after the Temple Mount was opened up to tourists and other non-Muslim visitors, several dozen Palestinians began throwing stones at both police and tourists. The police attempted to disperse the stone throwers and the Temple Mount was closed to visitors.

According to Palestinian medical personnel on the scene, 30 worshippers on the Temple Mount required medical attention as a result of the disturbances, among them two first-aid workers and five journalists who had been hit by police. Among those detained was Hatem Abdel Kader, who holds the Jerusalem portfolio in the Fatah leadership. He is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow regarding a request to extend his detention. Abdel Kader was arrested, according to the police, after attacking police officers and calling on worshippers to march out in a procession.

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Yesterday’s disturbances appear to have been sparked, as in the past, by printed announcements by Jewish groups seeking to gain access to the Temple Mount to pray. The northern branch of the Islamic Movement and other parties, including Abdel Kader, called on the Palestinian public to come to the Temple Mount to defend it. The confrontations then ensued. A senior member of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Ali Abu Sheikha, was detained yesterday in the Old City on suspicion of disturbing the peace and calling on Muslims on the scene to go out and demonstrate.

At another Jerusalem location yesterday afternoon, an Australian journalist was injured in the head by a stone thrown at police and border guards in the Old City. She was treated at the scene and did not require further medical attention.

Over the weekend, the Jerusalem police raised their level of alert following calls by Muslim leaders to “defend the Temple Mount from conquest by Jews” alongside calls from right-wing Jewish activists for Jews to come to the Temple Mount in large numbers. Police deployed reinforcements around the area yesterday, and more generally in the Old City and in East Jerusalem, to prevent disturbances. At the same time, however, they decided not to limit access to Muslim worshipers, Jewish visitors and other tourists to the site, reportedly based on a police policy to enable freedom of worship despite the warnings.

Following a police situation assessment yesterday morning, Police Commissioner David Cohen said the Islamic Movement was directing and fomenting large numbers of East Jerusalem residents and Israeli Arabs on the Temple Mount. “The police,” Cohen said, “will use a heavy hand against those rioters, inciters and demonstrators.” Jerusalem police also pointed a finger at Hamas as a source for the unrest.

The Islamic Movement yesterday accused the police of provoking worshipers at the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, claiming the Islamic Movement had not undertaken any unusual activity over the weekend. A spokesman for the movement’s northern branch, Zahi Najidat, told Haaretz: “Every day we organize buses from all over the country with women and children to the [Temple Mount] mosque plaza to pray and visit the holy site. Over the weekend, there was a routine call for people to come to the mosque and because of the tension over the mosque, many answered the call.” Najidat said the trips to the Temple Mount would continue over the coming days.

The disturbances in the Old City began at about 8 A.M. yesterday when dozens of young Palestinians began throwing stones at police officers who’d arrived at the area near the Temple Mount. The Palestinians also spilled oil in the area, in an apparent attempt to cause members of the police force to slip. The police then entered the Temple Mount compound, emptied it of worshipers, and used stun grenades to arrest three stone-throwers.

The police were met with Molotov cocktails and stones, and were lightly injured, with one taken to Hadassah Ein Karem. Dozens of young people congregated at the Al-Aqsa mosque. Nine others suspected of involvement in the disturbances were arrested at the approaches to the Temple Mount.

MK Talab al-Sana (United Arab List-Ta’al) warned that “Israel was provoking a billion Muslims who would not hesitate to defend the Al-Aqsa mosque with their bodies.” A leading Sunni Muslim religious figure, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, called on the Arab League and the kings of Saudi Arabia and Morocco to intervene immediately over the situation on the Temple Mount.

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