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Israeli forces storm Al-Aqsa compound

Feb. 28, 2010 8:59 A.M. (Updated: March 1, 2010 10:54 P.M.)
Jerusalem - Ma'an - Seven Palestinians were detained as clashes erupted on Sunday with Israeli forces at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, after storming the site with discord reported throughout the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem.

Ma'an's Jerusalem correspondent reported that four right-wing Israelis were allowed access to the Al-Aqsa compound with a police escort.

Dozens of Palestinian worshipers spent the night at site, fearing a takeover during the Jewish holiday of Purim.

Four Palestinians were injured by rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli soldiers near Herod's Gate and Bab Hutta. Additionally, 12 gathering near the Bab Al-Majlis were injured as Israeli forces deployed tear-gas canisters near the gate leading into the Al-Aqsa compound.

Fatima Al-Barsi, 40, sustained a leg fracture after reportedly being attacked by Israeli soldiers as she tried to enter the site.

Palestinians said their homes were used as vantage points by Israeli forces.

According to the Hebrew daily Haaretz, four Israeli policemen were injured in confrontations with Palestinians.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said "tourists entered the Temple Mount [Al-Aqsa compound] and were attacked by 20 masked Palestinians,throwing stones. Police immediately responded to disperse them."

Rosenfeld said police did not enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but surrounded the compound. He added that "1,000 tourist visits continue" in the area.

Over 200 Israeli soldiers and police surrounded the mosque, using loudspeakers calling on worshipers to evacuate the site, Ma'an's correspondent said. Palestinians responded by using the loudspeakers in the mosque, used to call Muslims to prayer, to urge Palestinians to head to the city.

Earlier on Sunday, Israeli forces and police erected checkpoints at all gates leading into the Old City of Jerusalem in the occupied part of the city, preventing entry to all Palestinians under the age of 50. Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, confirmed the age limit.

At the beginning of the week, extremist groups called on sympathizers to gather at the Buraq square, known to Israelis as the Wailing Wall, and march on the Al-Aqsa compound. Palestinians spent the night in the Al-Aqsa compound to prevent their entry, it was reported.

In response, national and religious leaders in Jerusalem and in Israel urged Palestinians to prevent the anticipated take-over by amassing at the mosque to prevent the entry of extremists.

The compound is a frequent site of clashes, as tensions run high in the Old City over Israeli excavations and rumors of settlers amassing at the site. In October 2009, 30 Palestinians were injured, including five journalists, and 20 detained as clashes erupted at the compound between worshipers and Israeli forces and police.

The compound, known by Muslims as the Haram Ash-Sharif, is the third holiest site in Islam, believed to be the location where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and returned. The site is the holiest for Jews, who believe it to be the site of the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and is referred to by Jews and Israelis as the Temple Mount.

The Old City has been sealed off by Israeli authorities from the beginning of Purim on Friday until 1 March, marking the end of the religious holiday.

Additionally, all border crossings into Gaza have been closed, as the West Bank remains sealed until the end of Purim.

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