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Violence Flares At Jerusalem Mosque


The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israeli police entered the compound housing al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem after Palestinians threw stones at visitors to the holy site, and fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up protests.

The confrontation on February 28 added to tension that is already running high after Israel's announcement of a plan to restore Jewish religious sites in the West Bank in a heritage project.

Witnesses said the violence began after Palestinians threw rocks at visitors touring the site. Palestinian officials said word had spread that religious Jews planned to enter the mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam.

Judaism's Western Wall, a Jewish prayer site revered as the remains of a perimeter wall of the second biblical Temple, sits just below the compound.

Israeli police arrested seven Palestinians and four policemen were injured by rocks, spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Palestinian medical sources said three Palestinians had been taken to hospital with injuries caused by rubber bullets.

Others were being treated for tear gas inhalation.

It was not immediately clear whether Israeli police fired the rubber bullets and tear gas in the al-Aqsa mosque compound, or in later clashes with youths in alleyways in the Old City.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, accused Israel of stoking tensions to undermine U.S. attempts to revive peace talks. Israel's actions, he said, would "naturally affect the American efforts and destroy them".

Israel and the United States have called on Abbas to begin talks immediately. Abbas first wants Israeli settlement expansion to cease. He is studying a U.S. proposal for indirect talks and will discuss it this week at the Arab League in Cairo.

The Palestinians aim to establish a state with East Jerusalem, including the walled Old City, as its capital. Israel considers all of Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital, a claim not recognized internationally.

Responsibility

Mohammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem, said in a statement Israel would bear responsibility for consequences of what he termed the "storming" of the site by "extremist groups".

Israeli police said around 1,000 tourists had visited the compound in the morning.

Adnan al-Husseini, the Palestinian-appointed governor of Jerusalem, said Palestinian youths spent the night at al-Aqsa out of concern religious Jews were planning to enter the area.

An Israeli police spokesman said the police, who do not usually enter the compound, had gone into the site when about 20 Palestinians threw stones. The spokesman said the protesters had taken cover in the mosque, which Israeli police do not enter.

The second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, erupted in 2000 after a visit by then-Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the compound, known by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif.

There have been several days of clashes in the West Bank town of Hebron, home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which Israel intends to include in its plan to refurbish Jewish heritage sites.

The Israeli plan also includes a site near the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Witnesses said four Palestinians were shot by Israeli soldiers near the town on February 27 after their car was stopped for inspection. Medics who were treating the casualties said one of them was seriously wounded.

An Israeli military spokesman said soldiers had opened fire in response to stone-throwing at them, striking a vehicle, and that the incident was under investigation.
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