Clashes, ten­sions flare at sa­cred site in Jerusalem

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - MO­HAMMED DARAGH­MEH AND ILAN BEN ZION

JERUSALEM — Vi­o­lence re­turned Thurs­day to a sa­cred site in Jerusalem as Pales­tini­ans gath­er­ing for prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque com­pound clashed with Is­raeli po­lice nearly two weeks af­ter a deadly at­tack there.

Ear­lier in the day, Pales­tini­ans had cel­e­brated as Is­rael rolled back se­cu­rity mea­sures and thou­sands of wor­ship­pers heeded a call by Mus­lim author­i­ties to as­sem­ble for prayers at the mosque for the first time in 11 days.

But as crowds pushed at one of the gates to the com­pound in the Old City, po­lice fired tear gas and rub­ber bul­lets to dis­perse them, with dozens re­ported wounded.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu or­dered po­lice re­in­force­ments in Jerusalem fol­low­ing the lat­est un­rest, and po­lice were weigh­ing lim­it­ing en­try of younger men in an­tic­i­pa­tion of mass protests for Fri­day prayers.

Is­raeli troops in the West Bank were put on high alert and pre­pared for more vi­o­lence Fri­day, a mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said.

Ten­sions have been run­ning high at the site sa­cred to both Mus­lims and Jews since three Is­raeli Arab men killed two po­lice of­fi­cers on July 14, prompt­ing Is­rael to in­stall metal de­tec­tors and other se­cu­rity de­vices.

Is­rael said the mea­sures were needed to pre­vent more at­tacks. Pales­tini­ans claimed Is­rael was try­ing to ex­pand its con­trol over the site, which Is­rael de­nied.

The se­cu­rity mea­sures out­raged Mus­lims and trig­gered protests, and low-level clashes have con­tin­ued in and around Jerusalem since then, high­light­ing the deep dis­trust be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans over the holy site.

In protest, Pales­tini­ans have prayed in Jerusalem’s streets out­side the shrine since the July 14 at­tack. Is­rael re­moved the de­vices Thurs­day and the cri­sis ap­peared to be eas­ing as Mus­lim lead­ers told the faith­ful to re­turn to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Droves of Pales­tini­ans en­tered for af­ter­noon prayers. A hand­ful scaled the roof the mosque and planted Pales­tinian flags above the en­trance. Po­lice later re­moved them.

Just be­fore wor­ship be­gan, po­lice shot tear gas and rub­ber bul­lets at the mass­ing crowd. The Red Cres­cent said ten­sions rose as Is­raeli troops closed one of the gates to the com­pound as large num­bers of wor­ship­pers tried to en­ter, and that 96 peo­ple were wounded in the melee. Po­lice said of­fi­cers were struck by stones and re­sponded with riot dis­per­sal meth­ods, and a spokesper­son said at least two of­fi­cers were wounded.

More clashes be­tween Pales­tini­ans and Is­raeli se­cu­rity forces erupted af­ter night­fall, with the Red Cres­cent say­ing at least eight peo­ple were hurt.

Ri­val Pales­tinian fac­tions Fatah and Ha­mas both is­sued calls ear­lier this week for mass protests on Fri­day.

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