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Unrest after Israeli raid on Al-Aqsa

Oct. 25, 2009 8:11 A.M. (Updated: July 17, 2010 9:44 P.M.)
By Jared Malsin, Muhammad Abed Rabbo, and George Hale

Jerusalem – Ma'an – At least 30 Palestinians were injured and 20 arrested when clashes between Israeli forces and youth erupted anew in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.

In violence that followed a reported police raid on the sensitive Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Israeli forces fired stun grenades, tear-gas canisters and rubber-coated bullets at protesters. Palestinian youth hurled stones and set tires and piles of trash ablaze, according to Ma'an's correspondent, who was reporting from the scene.

Among the injured were five Palestinian journalists: Maysa Abu Ghazaleh, a reporter for Palestine News Network; Diala Jweihan, a reporter for Quds Net; Mahfuth Abu Turk, a photographer for Reuters; Ata Iweisat, a photojournalist; and Mahmoud Ilieyan, a photographer for the Al-Quds newspaper, a medic confirmed.

A second medic, Muhammad Al-Hawash of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, said a reporter for a London radio station had been struck in the face with a rock and was taken to hospital.

Two first responders were also reported injured, including Fatema Az-Zgheiyer of the Union of Arab Medics, and a Medical Relief Society worker who was not immediately identified.

"At least five Palestinians were moved to the local Al-Maqased Hospital in Jerusalem after sustaining fractures and bruises, including two women who sustained fractures in the knee and chest," a medical official reported.

PA official arrested

Hatim Abdul Qader, the former Palestinian Authority minister of Jerusalem affairs, was among four detained near the mosque, according to Palestinian officials and Mickey Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman. He said 12 other Palestinians were arrested elsewhere in East Jerusalem, which matched prior reports from Abdul Qader before he too was detained.

Attorney Ahmad Abu Safieya told Ma'an that police had decided to hold Abdul Qader for several days, in addition to banning him from the area around the Al-Aqsa Mosque when he is eventually released.

Rosenfeld said three Israeli police officers were also injured. One was evacuated to a hospital, he added, during the clashes that reportedly started when Israeli officers and special forces deployed to the mosque compound early Sunday morning.

The spokesman denied, however, that police had entered the mosque, itself, although several officers were reportedly seen outside carrying ladders and crowbars. Eyewitnesses said the move appeared to be targeting the dozen or so protesters holed up inside the mosque. Police cut power to the mosque's loudspeakers after they were used to urge Palestinians to gather near the compound, according to those identifying themselves as witnesses.

Confrontations then erupted outside the mosque compound, where Israeli police clashed with students from Dar Al-Aytam school in the Old City after they marched through the streets chanting "Allahu akbar," the Arabic phrase for "God is great." One student was allegedly detained during that event.

Israeli police helicopters were seen flying through dark smoke rising over the Old City and other East Jerusalem neighborhoods, likely the result of a number of tires that were set ablaze throughout the afternoon. Ma'an's correspondent reported that some of the fires were started by youths using stripped electrical wires near Al-Majlis Gate. Palestinians also damaged security cameras inside the compound, he said.

Police raid

Police and medics offered differing explanations for how the clashes began.

Muhammad Al-Hawash of the Palestine Red Crescent Society told Ma'an that the ambulance service received a call around 8am informing medics that six Palestinians had been injured when Israeli forces stormed the mosque area and required emergency treatment. When medics arrived outside the compound, Al-Hawash said, Israeli forces refused them access to the injured until about 11:30am, when 22 wounded Palestinians were finally evacuated.

According to Israeli police, the area was locked down after young men poured oil around the East Jerusalem compound hoping to cause police officers to slip in the event they raided the area. Forces had already entered, apparently, because police said they did not start the day-long crackdown until after Palestinian youths began throwing stones and at least one Molotov cocktail from atop the compound.

In any case, both sides agreed that Israeli forces banned Muslims from entering the holy site in response to the violence, except for a few dozen Palestinians who holed themselves up inside the compound's mosque and refused to exit.

The night before, Muslim officials and institutions had called on worshippers to prevent the entry of right-wing Israeli groups and individuals who had announced their intentions to enter the area under armed guard.

The Jerusalem Post, an English-language Israeli newspaper, reported that a religious group calling itself "Eretz Israel Shelanu" had urged its followers "to properly arise to the Temple Mount." The visit was thought to be in commemoration of a visit by the Maimonides 843 years ago, the newspaper added, noting that a number of Israeli lawmakers and rabbis were among those expected to participate.

Aggression

Several officials condemned what they termed Israel's provocative measures in the city.

Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset, accused Israel of trying to take control of the compound. He called on Arab and Islamic countries to unite to counter "[Benjamin] Netanyahu's aggressive policies."

Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, warned that the crisis could escalate. He told Al-Jazeera that Israeli forces assaulted worshippers indiscriminately, including women and mosque guards. Police attempted to break into the mosque building and the Dome of the Rock, Hussein added, a charge that Ma'an could not substantiate and Israeli police denied.

Believed by Muslims to be the spot where Muhammad ascended to heaven, Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam. The compound, with its golden Dome of the Rock, is also a focal point of Palestinian national pride. Both holy sites sit atop what Israelis and many Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, where the Jewish First and Second Temples were thought to have stood.

The location is especially sensitive because some extremists, from various religious backgrounds, seek the mosque's demolition in order to construct a "Third Temple." The most notable attempt was in 1969, when an Australian national set Al-Aqsa ablaze in an attempt to herald the second coming of Christ.
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