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Clashes on ‘day of rage’

Palestinian Muslim worshippers, under the age of 40 years old, perform the traditional Friday prayers on a street in front of Israeli policemen blocking the access to Al-Aqsa Mosque on September 18, 2015 outside the Old City walls in East Jerusalem. Israeli police deployed heavily to bar young Muslim men from prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque site in Jerusalem on what Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas dubbed a "day of rage". AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX

JERUSALEM: Palestinians clashed yesterday with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank after the Islamist movement Hamas called for a “day of rage” over tensions at the Al-Aqsa mosque. In Jerusalem, three police were injured as a firebomb struck their van in the Jabal Mukaber district and five Palestinians were arrested, including at least three youths, police said. Tensions were running high at nightfall in the area, where security forces were deployed in large numbers.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as protesters pelted them with stones in city neighbourhoods around the Mount of Olives, including in Shuafat refugee camp. But the situation was calm in the Old City and at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. Officials said about 3,000 police had deployed after three days of violence this week at the sensitive site during the Jewish new year. In the West Bank, however, an AFP correspondent reported that skirmishes were more intense than normal for a Friday, which have become a day of protests following weekly Muslim prayers.

At Kafr Kaddum near Nablus, Israeli fire wounded three Palestinians in their arms and legs, said the Red Crescent. Youths hurled projectiles at police near Ofer prison, Qalandiya checkpoint and Jalazun refugee camp – flashpoints in the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The protesters adopted the same slogan everywhere. “By our soul and our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you Al-Aqsa,” chanted hundreds of them gathered in Nablus and the Gaza Strip.

Known to Muslims as Al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), the compound houses the famous golden Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa mosque. From where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) made his night journey to heaven, it is the third-holiest site in Islam after the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s (PBUH) Mosque in Madinah, both in Saudi Arabia. It is the most sacred site in Judaism, said to be the site of the biblical temples. Jews are allowed to visit, which they call the Temple Mount, but cannot pray there to avoid further raising tensions.

Police had set up heavily manned checkpoints on streets leading up to the site yesterday, before an estimated 8,000-10,000 worshippers prayed, down from the average of 25,000-35,000. “It’s a frontline,” said Mazen Shawish, 52. “You have to go through 20 military checkpoints to get to the mosque.” Hundreds of young men denied entry prayed just outside the Old City walls. Police said they had an intelligence warning that Arab youths were planning fresh confrontations and decided to keep them away by limiting the age of worshippers to 40 and above for men.

In Jordan, thousands of protesters yesterday rallied in the capital Amman and other cities to denounced Israeli “violence” at the Al-Aqsa compound. Israeli authorities fear further trouble ahead when the Muslim feast of Eid Al-Adha coincides on Wednesday with the solemn Jewish fast of Yom Kippur. And Jews begin their seven-day Sukkot festival the following week, one of the holidays when more Israelis than usual are likely to visit the compound. Israel seized east Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised internationally. It claims sovereignty over the entire city, including holy sites.

Israel ‘Maintaining Status Quo’
To the Palestinians, who want the mainly-Arab eastern side as their capital, the compound with its landmarks is a potent symbol of so-far unrealised statehood. They fear Israel will seek to change rules governing the site, with far-right Jewish groups pushing for more access and even efforts by fringe organisations to erect a new Jewish temple there. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday night, saying the Jewish state “is strictly maintaining the status quo”.

Netanyahu has publicly “declared war” on those who throw rocks and petrol bombs, and became even more adamant after an Israeli motorist died at the wheel on Sunday night, apparently as a consequence of Palestinian stone-throwing, police said. Israeli-driven vehicles are frequently pelted with stones where Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods rub up against each other. One proposal is to let snipers with low-velocity rifles operate against stone-throwers in Jerusalem, as they already do in the occupied West Bank.

Justice ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen said that was one of a raft of suggestions currently under scrutiny by legal experts ahead of a government decision. Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, said yesterday its foreign affairs and defence committee authorised the call-up of reservists from the paramilitary border police, “in response to the deteriorating security situation in Jerusalem”. It did not indicate when such a mobilisation would take place, or its likely size and duration. – AFP

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