Israeli police confront worshipers at Al-Aqsa

JERUSALEM Fri Feb 9, 2007 2:45pm EST

1 of 12. Israeli riot policemen stands in front of Dome of the Rock after clashes inside al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, February 9, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Ammar Awad

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli police forces entered the area around Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and fired stun grenades at stone-throwing Palestinian worshippers in clashes at the end of Friday prayers.

Muslim leaders had called for protests over excavations near Islam's third holiest shrine. Arab states had asked Israel to halt the work, charging it could undermine the foundations of Al-Aqsa. Israel says the work will do no damage.

A police spokesman at the scene said 15 policemen and nine protesters had been lightly injured in the clashes. Seventeen people were arrested, some of them in the streets outside Jerusalem's Old City walls.

Police estimated that 9,000 worshippers prayed at the site on Friday. Dozens were stuck inside the mosque as stone-throwers clashed with police outside on the compound known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif.

"Police have used stun grenades and are in full control of the Temple Mount. They are working cautiously in order to disperse the rioters," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

He said police did not fire rubber bullets as initially reported by Israel Radio.

Only women and men aged over 45 had been allowed to participate in prayers because of fears of riots.

The ZAKA emergency service reported stone-throwing incidents had taken place at other points around Jerusalem. There were no reports of casualties in those incidents.

ZAKA added that police were being diverted to the north of the country to prepare for possible unrest at a major protest in expected later on Friday in the city of Nazareth.

In Hebron in the occupied West Bank, local witnesses said the Israeli army closed the center of the city after youths threw stones and burned tires. Three people were treated at a local hospital for tear gas inhalation.

Rosenfeld said police were working with Israeli Arab lawmakers and clerics to disperse worshipers who were enclosed inside the mosque after police closed the doors on them.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Haitham Tamimi in Hebron)

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