News / Middle East

Palestinians, Israelis Clash at Jerusalem Holy Site

Luis Ramirez

Thousands of police have deployed in Jerusalem following clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli police. Tensions rose further when Israeli police entered the holy precinct known to Muslims as the Haram al Sharif, and the Temple Mount to Jews.

East Jerusalem, including the Old City, was the scene of sporadic clashes throughout the day Wednesday. Fighting on the streets escalated after an Israeli security guard in the neighborhood of Silwan shot and killed a Palestinian.  

Witnesses say the guard opened fire after getting pelted by rocks from Palestinians.

After the Palestinian man's funeral, violence spread to other neighborhoods of predominantly Arab East Jerusalem with demonstrators throwing rocks and setting cars on fire. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that later, a group of Palestinians threw stones at Israelis near the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site at the base of the Temple Mount.

"Our units entered the Temple Mount after stones were thrown at police officers that were adjacent to the Western Wall," said Micky Rosenfeld. "It was necessary to enter using a minimum amount of force and disperse those rioters. There were approximately 50 masked Israeli Arabs that entered the al-Aqsa mosque. And once they entered and retreated back into the al-Aqsa mosque, the Israeli police went down from the Temple Mount."

The al-Aqsa mosque sits inside the holy precinct and is Islam's third holiest site.

The neighborhood of Silwan where the clashes began has been the scene of tension between Jews who have in recent years been moving in, and longtime Arab residents who accuse the Israelis of trying to push them out.

Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian government spokesman, condemned Israelis for what he said was an unnecessary use of force. He says the fighting highlights what he described as the problem of Jewish settlers in lands claimed by the Palestinians.

"This renewed violence by Israeli soldiers and settlers is very dangerous especially in terms of its timing," said Ghassan Khatib. "And, such increase in Israeli violence and settler violence is the direct result of the presence, of the illegal presence, of Jewish settlers inside the Palestinian territories and Palestinian populated areas."

The violence comes weeks after Israel and the Palestinians resumed direct peace negotiations. The presence of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is a major sticking point in the talks.

The Palestinians have threatened to quit negotiations if Israel does not extend a partial construction freeze in settlements that is due to expire on Sunday.  U.S. diplomats say they are working to get both sides to reach a compromise before the deadline.  

Palestinian officials say scores of Arab residents were injured in the clashes Wednesday.  Israel says at least eight Israelis were also hurt when Palestinians attacked them with rocks in various parts of East Jerusalem.

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