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Clashes in West Bank as Aqsa Mosque reopens

Nov. 1, 2014 5:51 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 2, 2014 3:54 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Clashes erupted in the West Bank on Friday after weekly Muslim prayers while security forces deployed heavily around Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound which reopened following the killing of a Palestinian by police.

A rocket was also fired from Gaza and hit an open area in southern Israel on Friday, the Israeli army said, although there were no reports of casualties or damage. It was the first rocket to hit Israel since Sept. 16.

Al-Aqsa, in Jerusalem's Old City, and adjacent neighborhoods have seen months of violence, and the mosque compound has been a rallying point for Palestinian resistance to some Israelis' attempts to take control of it.

Jerusalem was relatively calm on Friday a day after youths clashed with police following the fatal shooting of Muataz Hijazi, a Palestinian Israeli forces claimed tried to murder hardline Jewish rabbi Yehuda Glick, linked to the tensions at Al-Aqsa.

Glick is an advocate for the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and its replacement with a Jewish temple.

During Thursday's unrest, Israel ordered a rare closure of the mosque compound, sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

The area reopened on Friday with hundreds of additional police, who prevented entry for Muslim men under 50.

Prayers were more sparsely attended than usual but held without incident, an AFP correspondent said.

Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Islamic Waqf body which oversees Jerusalem's Muslim holy sites, gave a sharp sermon at Al-Aqsa, calling Thursday a "black day" and a "catastrophe."

Shortly afterwards, a handful of Palestinian youths outside the Old City threw stones at police, who quickly dispersed them, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement.

In the West Bank about 300 Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces at the Qalandiya checkpoint just north of Jerusalem, some throwing stones.

The Israelis responded with live fire and rubber bullets and wounded around a dozen people, Palestinian security sources and medics said.

Jerusalem's Old City was teeming with additional police, including many in riot gear, after an Israeli clampdown on the compound.

'Declaration of war'

Meanwhile, the United States announced talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat on Monday in Washington to discuss how to advance the frozen peace process.

Kerry would also discuss "lowering tensions in Jerusalem" with the Palestinian team, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday.

The closure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque was the first for decades and prompted a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas to condemn the move as an Israeli "declaration of war."

The resident imam at Abbas's headquarters in Ramallah echoed the president's words, saying the closure had been a "declaration of war ... to Muslims across the world" and calling for people to "defend" Al-Aqsa.

Jerusalem has been shaken by months of unrest sparked by the murder of a Palestinian teenager in July in revenge for the killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.

A 50-day summer war between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip intensified protests and clashes in the Holy City.

A controversial visit to Al-Aqsa in 2000 by Ariel Sharon, who later became Israel's prime minister, sparked the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Old City security tight

Police, some in riot gear, guarded a series of checkpoints leading from the Old City's outer gates all the way to the compound, an AFP correspondent said.

They checked identity papers of people passing between the barricades, both those on their way to pray and those who worked nearby.

Zuheir Dana, 67, said he was unable to get from his shop to his home.

"I wanted just to get home, which is about 50 meters away from the Al-Aqsa Compound, but police didn't let me through," he said.

"It's been bad every day here since Ramadan," he added, referring to the Muslim holy month that fell in July.

Markets in the Old City, normally bustling on a Friday morning, were nearly deserted due to the security measures.

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, thousands turned out at the call of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements to honor Hijazi, whom Islamic Jihad claimed as one of its members.

Demonstrators burned Israeli flags and held up posters of Hijazi.

Fathi Hamad, a leader of the Hamas movement, said at Friday prayers in Gaza City that Israel would "not win -- we will resist."

He urged Arabs in Jerusalem to "stay strong. We are with you to wage the battle of Al-Aqsa!"

Israeli police said Hijazi's funeral late Thursday had passed off without incident.

The hospital treating Glick said his condition was slightly improved on Friday but that his life was still in danger.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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