Palestinians throw stones at Jewish worshippers
JERUSALEM (AP) – Palestinians rained stones on Jewish worshippers commemorating a holy day Sunday at the Western Wall, prompting Israeli police with stun grenades to storm a mosque compound at Jerusalem’s most bitterly contested religious shrine.
The current round of Mideast bloodletting erupted exactly 10 months earlier inside the same hilltop compound where two large mosques, including the golden Dome of the Rock, were built atop the ruins of the biblical Jewish temples.
Israel claims sovereignty over the Temple Mount, though the Waqf, an Islamic trust, has day-to-day control. The compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, was one of the most contentious issues in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that broke down in January.
Clashes broke out Sept. 29 – the day after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the mosque compound as opposition leader, provoking outrage among Muslims. Since then, more than 500 Palestinians and 100 Israelis have died in the fighting.
Nobody was killed Sunday, but 15 Israeli policemen and 10 Palestinians were injured and 28 Palestinians were arrested at the compound. Also, Israeli troops battled Palestinian protesters in several West Bank towns.
Israeli police remained inside the mosque compound for several hours after the clashes ended, and then withdrew Sunday evening without incident.
Israeli police had expected a difficult day Sunday, the Jewish holy day of Tisha B’Av, when observant Jews mark the destruction of Jewish temples at the site in the years 586 B.C. and 70 A.D.
The government blocked a group of about 30 ultranationalist Jews, the Temple Mount Faithful, from placing the symbolic cornerstone of a new temple within the compound but did permit the group to hold a short ceremony in a parking lot outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. The Temple Mount Faithful then demonstrated near the mosques, but were turned back by hundreds of police.
Shortly after, Muslims inside the compound began throwing stones, bricks and bottles at hundreds of Jews praying down below at the Western Wall, which forms an exterior wall of the compound.
The Jewish worshippers – who were not part of the ultranationalist group – fled the barrage, with some holding plastic chairs or prayer shawls over their heads for protection. Some dashed across a stone plaza to escape the range of the stone throwers, while others hugged the wall, scooting along it until they reached a tunnel that took them out of danger. None were hurt.
When the stone-throwing began, about 400 Israeli police in riot gear rushed inside the mosque compound. The police were met with a hail of rocks, and tossed stun grenades.
”The Jews are bullying us and no one is able to make them stop,” said Abdullah Mohammed Abdullah, 53, one of several thousand Muslim worshippers. ”They are not going to quit until they take everything.”
Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy said officers were just trying to stop the stone throwing.
”I really hope the Palestinians will not try to ignite things again,” Levy said.
Several Arabic nations condemned the decision to allow the ultranationalist Jews to hold their ceremony and the Israeli police response.
The Grand Mufti of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims, Sheik Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, called the demonstration the ”beginning of the end for the state of Israel, ” and the Iraqi Foreign Ministry urged the start of a ”holy war” to liberate the Islamic site.
Jordanian Information Minister Saleh Qallab said the storming of the compound was a ”provocation,” and that the actions were ”adding oil to the fire.”
Palestinian medical workers said Israeli forces fired rubber bullets, but the Israeli police denied the charge. The initial police action quickly drove most Palestinians back inside the mosques.
A tense standoff ensued with white-clad Palestinian medical workers forming a human buffer between police and the stone-throwers in a bid to prevent additional clashes.
Some elderly Muslim worshippers urged youths to stop throwing stones but the Palestinians periodically tossed rocks at the police, who charged the youths to disperse them. The police remained inside the compound for hours, and approached the two mosques but did not enter them.
In other violence apparently triggered by the incident, three Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers were injured in an exchange of fire near Ramallah. One Israeli soldier also was wounded in the city of Hebron. A car bomb exploded in Pisgat Zeev, a Jewish neighborhood in disputed east Jerusalem. No one was hurt, and police blamed Palestinian militants.
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