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Muslim Worshippers, Israeli Police Clash at Jerusalem Mosque Compound

There were violent clashes Friday at Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock between Israeli security forces and Muslim worshippers angered over a controversial Israeli archeological dig at the base of the complex. VOA's Jim Teeple has details.

Stun grenades and tear gas scattered hundreds of protesters in and around the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's old city.

Tensions have been building all week ever since bulldozers began removing tons of debris from the base of a wooden pedestrian ramp that runs from the base of the Wailing Wall up to the compound of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosques.

Islamic clerical authorities say the excavation work will destroy an old walkway to the mosques which they say belongs to the Islamic authorities who run the mosques - and could damage the structure of the al-Aqsa mosque itself - one of Islam's holiest shrines. Israeli archeological authorities say all they want to do is replace the walkway and there is no danger of any damage to the Islamic sites.

Following Friday prayers Israeli security forces firing tear gas and stun grenades entered the large compound known as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims and the Temple Mount to Jews to disperse hundreds of protesters. Mohammed Saleh who had gone to the al-Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers says tensions are high over the excavation work.

"I do not think the soldiers had any excuse to shoot the people after the prayers," he said. "It is very difficult times and this is very sensitive to Moslems around the world - especially those making their prayers today. So this is aggravation this is provocation you know. "

About 150 protesters barricaded themselves inside the al-Aqsa mosque for nearly two hours before dispersing.

Mickey Rosenfeld a spokesman for Israel's police says security forces only entered the compound after disturbances broke out. He says at no time did they enter either of the two mosques.

"Police reacted quickly and carefully with a minimum about of force, only using their batons as well as stun grenades in order to disperse rioters," he said. "As far as we are concerned, police quickly took control of the situation inside Temple Mount as well."

Clashes between Israeli police and young Arab protesters broke out in other locations in East Jerusalem, the Moslem half of the city that Israel seized from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. There were also scattered clashes Friday in a number of locations in the West Bank.