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J'lem: Right-wing Jews antagonize locals under prayer pretext

Oct. 10, 2009 1:23 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 11, 2009 3:03 P.M.)
Jerusalem – Ma’an - Hundreds of religious Jews marched toward the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, taking over the streets in the Old City in what was described as an in-your-face celebration of Shmini Atzeret, which falls a day after the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

The celebration was viewed by Palestinians in the area as a provocative act.

While many observant Jews in the holy city walk to the Western Wall complex at the bottom of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for part of the Shmini Atzeret celebration, hundreds of agitators made their way to the Palestinian neighborhood on Al-Wad Street near the entrance of the Al-Qatanin Market. Palestinians observing the group believed they were attempting to break into the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

On the pretext of celebration, religious Jews performing the Hakafot - dancing round in circles with the Torah - pushed Palestinian shopkeepers out of the streets and ordered them to close their doors.

“You are dirty Arabs,” was a slogan the antagonistic group launched at Palestinians in the area, with several shopkeepers being backed into their stores or small corners of the Old City by advancing celebrators. Racial slurs against Arabs mixed in with the traditional rain prayer marking the end of Sukkot and the start of the harvest.

The group of ultra-orthodox Jews was accompanied by several dozen Israeli soldiers and border guards, who watched as religious rituals were used to antagonize local residents.

Palestinians who refused to back down from the ralliers and remained in the area were told by police that they must shut their stores and leave the area for two hours by order of the police department, “so the worshipers could perform their prayers,” one officer said.

Jerusalem Waqf officials rejected the police order and urged residents to “remain steadfast in confronting the settlers’ provocative acts.”

Police were also seen barring the rowdy group from the entrance area of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, bolstering Palestinian concerns that under the pretext of prayer, the group indeed indented to break into the compound.

The location the group staged the prayer at is a street that runs from the Western Wall in the north toward the Al-Qatanin Gate, one of the main gates to the Old City, which is next to one of the entrances to the Muslim Haram Ash-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, that is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The incident occurred just hours after Israeli forces lifted their siege on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, where more than 100 Palestinians were barricaded, inside, refusing to leave for fear the compound would be taken over by Israel.

Following the Friday prayer at the mosque, nearly 100 more Muslim worshippers remained in the area, vowing to remain there until the close of the Jewish holidays, which end Saturday night. Many of those inside the area have said they will not leave for another two days to ensure the safety of the area.

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