Three Palestinian teenagers have been killed by Israeli troops, threatening a fragile cease-fire. The incident comes amid rising tensions at a hotly disputed holy place in Jerusalem that is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
Israeli troops opened fire on a group of Palestinian teenagers in a restricted zone in the Gaza Strip, killing three of them and putting the two-month-old cease-fire in jeopardy. A leader of the militant Islamic Jihad group, Mohammed al-Hindi, said Palestinian factions would re-evaluate the truce, but for now, it is still intact.
The shooting occurred after thousands of angry Palestinians marched in Gaza and the West Bank, to protest plans by Jewish settlers to hold a demonstration at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Sunday.
The Temple Mount is home to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest place in Islam, and has long been a focal point of Israeli-Palestinian tensions. It was the site of the Jewish Temples in biblical times, making it the holiest place in the Jewish world. Palestinian protesters warned that, if Jews enter the compound, the cease-fire will be over.
Jewish settlers are planning to protest at the al-Aqsa compound Sunday against Israel's plan to pull out of Gaza this summer. Jewish extremists are hoping to provoke a violent Palestinian reaction, and scuttle the Israeli government's disengagement plan.
Fearing trouble, Israel has deployed thousands of police and soldiers in Jerusalem's walled Old City to keep the demonstrators away from the Temple Mount. Israeli Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra issued a warning on Israel Radio.
"We will not allow provocations," he said. "The demonstration is banned."
Safwan Attiyeh, a Palestinian shopkeeper in Old Jerusalem, told VOA that every Muslim is prepared to defend the mosque.
"If these settlers want to come to [the] Mosque of al Aqsa against the police, against the army, they will face something they will regret," he said.
In September 2000, a visit to the compound by Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, who was then opposition leader, sparked riots that led to more than four years of Israeli-Palestinian clashes.