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Violence flares at Jerusalem holy site

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli police entered the compound housing Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque Sunday and fired tear gas and rubber bullets after Palestinians threw stones at visitors to the site.

The confrontation 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. Palestinian officials said word had spread that religious Jews planned to enter the compound, the third holiest site in Islam.

The Western Wall, a prayer site revered by Jews as the remains of a perimeter 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 compound, or in later clashes with youths in alleyways of the Old City.

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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 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.

RESPONSIBILITY

Mohammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem, said 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 that religious Jews were planning to enter.

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

There have been several days of clashes in the West Bank town of Hebron, home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which Israel plans 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 and wounded by Israeli soldiers near the town Saturday after their car was stopped for inspection. Medics who were treating the casualties said one of them was in serious condition.

An Israeli military spokesman said soldiers had opened fire after stones were thrown at them and hit a vehicle. He said the commander of the force involved had been suspended.

Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Tom Perry; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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