Israeli police have stormed the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's walled Old City to quell a riot by Muslims. The clashes began after an ultra-nationalist Jewish group laid a symbolic foundation stone for the building of a new temple at the site, which is also holy to Islam. Israeli police rushed on to the Temple Mount, site of the holy Jewish Temples in biblical times, and fired stun grenades at Muslim worshipers.
The clash took place in the most sensitive area in the Israeli-Arab conflict. For Jews it is the Temple Mount, the site of their holy temples in biblical times, and is regarded as the most sacred place in the Jewish world.
For centuries the area has also been home to the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosques, making it the third holiest shrine in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
The clashes began after the small Jewish ultra-nationalist group, the Temple Mount Faithful, laid a symbolic cornerstone for the building of a new Temple. The organization chose the occasion of Tisha B'Av, the day Jews mourn the destruction of their First and Second Temples more than 2,000 years ago.
The Israeli police forced the organization to perform the ceremony outside the walls of the Old City and away from the area, but this did nothing to cool the passions of Palestinians. About 2,000 Muslims gathered at the site and soon began throwing rocks at Jews praying below them at the adjoining Western Wall.
Extra numbers of Israeli police immediately evacuated the worshipers and stormed the shrine, arresting 29 Muslims, some of whom appeared bloody and beaten.
Israeli police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby says the police acted responsibly but that the Palestinians had been looking for any pretext to start a riot. "We think the Palestinians found a few reasons to set a fire on the Temple Mount. I would say it is hard words, but they really wanted to start a fire on the Temple Mount," he said.
Emotions also ran high among Jewish worshipers after they were stoned during prayers. One was Mrs. Joyce Boim, whose son she says was killed five years ago in a Palestinian drive-by killing. "I am not scared," she asserted. "This is my holy place. I have a right to come here and pray. I have a right to go everywhere in this land." She said she had no sympathy for the Palestinians who were injured by the police during the rioting and subsequent arrests.
Among those taken into custody was Amin Demhamshe, 14-year-old son of Abdulmalik Dehamshe, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament. He says that ultimately, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is to blame for inflaming passions with his visit to the site in September last year. "Mr. Sharon started the fire on the 28th of September last year," said Mr. Dehamshe. "He came here to tell the whole world he is the conqueror and he is the owner of this place. We say it again and again, this is the holy mosque of the Muslims, Al-Aqsa its name. It is not a Jewish Temple and nothing like this. And Mr. Sharon and all the Jewish people have nothing to do here and not to come to beat us and not to kill us inside the Al-Aqsa mosque."
The Palestinian uprising, now beginning its 11th month, has claimed more than 600 lives and shows no signs of abating.