Palestinians clash with Israel forces on day of rage

09/19/2015 - 01:02 AM

Jason Boutros

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli security forces clashed with Palestinians in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank Friday after 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 neighborhoods 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, the Red Crescent said.

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 gathered in Nablus and the Gaza Strip.

A rocket fired by militants in Gaza struck a parked bus in the southern Israeli town of Sderot without causing casualties, police said.

Police said the rocket, for which there was no immediate claim of responsibility, damaged the bus but there were no injuries.

Known to Muslims as Al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), the Jerusalem compound houses the famous golden Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jews are allowed to visit the site, 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 Friday where an estimated 8,000-10,000 worshippers prayed, down from the average of 25,000-35,000.

“It’s a front line,” said Mazen Shawish, 52. “You have to go through 20 military checkpoints to get to the mosque.”

Hundreds of young men who were 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 Friday 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 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 Middle East war. It claims sovereignty over the entire city, including holy sites.

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 unrealized 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 organizations to erect a new Jewish temple there.

Netanyahu has publicly “declared war” on those who throw rocks and Molotovs, and became even more adamant after an Israeli motorist died at the wheel Sunday night, apparently as a consequence of Palestinian stone-throwing, police said.

Israeli-driven vehicles are frequently pelted with stones where Jewish and Arab neighborhoods 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.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, said Friday its foreign affairs and defense committee authorized 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 mobilization would take place, or its likely size and duration.

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