Sep 18, 2015 5:12 PM

Palestinians and Israel forces clash in Jerusalem, West Bank

The Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) Violence between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces spread beyond the walls of Jerusalem's old city on Friday, with at least eight Palestinians shot in clashes in the West Bank and Israeli policemen injured by firebombs in a restive part of the city.

In a rare decision, Israeli leaders called up a few hundred border police reservists to beef up security as tensions rise over Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site. One Israeli civilian has been killed in the violence since Sunday.

In the West Bank, violent protests broke out after Muslim prayers Friday afternoon. Israeli troops fired tear gas and deployed a water cannon to disperse stone-throwing Palestinian youths. The Palestinian Red Crescent said eight Palestinians were seriously hurt after being shot by live rounds. About 20 were lightly hurt in clashes with Israeli soldiers, it said.

Two Palestinians were shot and wounded while throwing firebombs at Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, police said.

Palestinians also clashed with Israeli forces in Hebron, Qalandia and elsewhere.

The policemen were attacked on Friday near the area in Jerusalem where an Israeli man died earlier in the week after Palestinians pelted his car with rocks. Palestinians threw firebombs and rocks at the officers, and three of them were taken to a hospital, authorities said. Emergency services said one officer was shot in the arm.

Most of the unrest had until now focused on Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site a hilltop compound sacred to both Jews and Muslims. The compound is a frequent flashpoint and its fate is a core issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, site of the two biblical Jewish temples and the religion's holiest site. Muslims revere it as the Noble Sanctuary and it is Islam's third holiest spot, where they believe Prophet Muhammad ascended on a visit to heaven.

Since Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, Jews have been allowed to visit but not pray at the compound. Under an arrangement, Muslim authorities manage the site's religious and civilian affairs under Jordanian supervision, while Israeli police oversee security.

Palestinians say in the last two months there has been a new development where Israel has intermittently restricted some Muslims from the compound when Jews visit. Israel says this is to reduce friction, but Palestinians claim that Israel intends to establish Muslim-free Jewish visiting hours, which they fear could lead to upsets in the fragile arrangement in place.

Israel has reiterated its position that it has no plans to change the status quo at the site. But even rumors to the contrary are enough to spark violence.

The unrest began Sunday on the eve of the Jewish new year holiday of Rosh Hashanah when Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque and threw rocks and firecrackers at officers. Police said pipe bombs were also found there.

Rumors had been spreading among Palestinians of a "plot" to take over the site after activists from a Jewish group publicized a notice for "a mass visit to the Temple Mount" on Sunday.

Police entered the hilltop compound three days in a row to disperse Palestinians who had holed up inside the mosque with stockpiles of rocks and fireworks. The Israeli response sparked condemnations across the Arab world and concern that the tensions could spiral out of control.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the clashes in particularly harsh language, claiming that none of Jerusalem's holy sites belonged to Israel.

Israel's public security minister Gilad Erdan on Friday blamed Abbas for "incitement and lies" that led to violence. He said that by bringing explosive materials and rocks into the holy site, protesters had turned the "house of worship" into a "warehouse of terror."

Earlier, parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee decided in a "special discussion" Friday to call up border police reserves to beef up security.

Police have put thousands of officers on patrol. Authorities also banned Muslim men under the age of 40 from praying at the site in an attempt to curb violence as mostly younger Palestinians throw rocks at the site.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has telephoned world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, urging them to take measures at the U.N. Security Council to stem the unrest, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

He told the leaders in his calls Thursday that "such aggression flagrantly violates the holiness of religions and gives a hand to fan extremism and violence in the entire world," the report said. He also spoke with Abbas concerning the developments.

Elsewhere in Israel, a rocket fired from Gaza exploded in the border town of Sderot on Friday evening, the military said. Israeli media reported the rocket damaged a house and a bus. Nobody was hurt.

Gaza militants later fired another rocket at Israel that was intercepted by its Iron Dome rocket defense system, the military said.

The town has been hard-hit by rockets from neighboring Gaza, ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, over the years.


Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank and Aya Batrawy in Mecca, Saudi Arabia contributed to this report.


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