Clashes re­sume at Jerusalem mosque

Is­raelis hit Pales­tinian crowd with tear gas, rub­ber bul­lets; troops on alert

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - ILAN BEN ZION AND MO­HAMMED DARAGH­MEH

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 of peo­ple re­ported wounded.

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

Is­raeli troops in the West Bank were put on high alert and pre­pared for more vi­o­lence to­day, a mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said. Ri­val Pales­tinian fac­tions Fatah and Ha­mas both is­sued calls ear­lier this week for mass protests to­day.

Ten­sions have been run­ning high at the site sa­cred to both Mus­lims and Jews since three Is­raeli Arab gun­men killed two po­lice of­fi­cers 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 an­gered 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 fired 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 spokesman said at least two of­fi­cers were wounded.

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

In ad­di­tion, a 26-year-old Pales­tinian who was wounded ear­lier this week out­side Jerusalem in a con­fronta­tion with Is­raeli troops has died, said Dr. Ah­mad Betawi, head of a West Bank hos­pi­tal. At least four other Pales­tini­ans have died in the past week in vi­o­lent clashes with Is­raeli se­cu­rity forces.

The fate of the shrine is an emo­tional is­sue at the heart of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. Even the small­est per­ceived change to the ar­range­ments per­tain­ing to the site sparks ten­sions.

Jews re­vere the hill­top com­pound as the Tem­ple Mount, site of the two Jewish bib­li­cal tem­ples. It is the holi­est site in Ju­daism and the nearby West­ern Wall, a rem­nant of one of the tem­ples, is the holi­est place where Jews can pray.

The walled com­pound is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. It is Is­lam’s third-holi­est site, af­ter Mecca and Me­d­ina in Saudi Ara­bia. Mus­lims be­lieve the site marks the spot where the Prophet Muham­mad as­cended to heaven.

Is­rael had faced in­tense pres­sure over the se­cu­rity de­vices and said it plans to in­stall so­phis­ti­cated cam­eras in­stead. Pales­tinian lead­ers and Mus­lim cler­ics had in­sisted Is­rael re­store the sit­u­a­tion at the shrine to what it was be­fore the at­tack.

The cri­sis has sparked some of the worst street clashes in years and threat­ened to draw Is­rael into con­flict with Jor­dan.

Also Thurs­day, King Ab­dul­lah of Jor­dan, which is the Mus­lim cus­to­dian of the shrine, urged Is­rael to “re­spect the his­tor­i­cal and le­gal sit­u­a­tion in the holy shrine to pre­vent the re­cur­rence of these crises.”

Ab­dul­lah crit­i­cized Is­rael’s han­dling of a deadly al­ter­ca­tion last week­end at its em­bassy in Am­man in­volv­ing an Is­raeli se­cu­rity guard, call­ing Ne­tanyahu’s con­duct “provoca­tive.”

And he blasted Ne­tanyahu for prais­ing an Is­raeli se­cu­rity guard who killed two Jor­da­ni­ans at the em­bassy af­ter a 16-year-old at­tacked the guard with a screw­driver.

“Such un­ac­cept­able and provoca­tive be­hav­ior at all lev­els in­fu­ri­ates all of us, leads to in­se­cu­rity and fu­els ex­trem­ism in the re­gion,” Ab­dul­lah said.

Ab­dul­lah told se­nior of­fi­cials that Ne­tanyahu needs to take le­gal mea­sures that “guar­an­tee the trial of the mur­derer.”

He said the in­ci­dent “will have a di­rect im­pact on the na­ture of our re­la­tions.”

Ha­mas, the Is­lamic mil­i­tant group that rules Gaza, had praised the Is­raeli roll­back of se­cu­rity at the sa­cred site. Iz­zat Risheq, a se­nior Ha­mas leader, tweeted that Pales­tini­ans achieved a “his­toric vic­tory.”

Ne­tanyahu is try­ing to halt a wave of un­rest while not ap­pear­ing to his hard-line base as ca­pit­u­lat­ing.

He sought to fend off the crit­i­cism again Thurs­day. He took a hard line against Pales­tinian vi­o­lence, say­ing that “the time has come for the death penalty for ter­ror­ists in ex­treme cases.”


Is­raeli bor­der po­lice throw tear gas to­wards Pales­tini­ans on Thurs­day next to the Dome of the Rock mosque in the Al-Aqsa mosque com­pound.

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