Israeli Police battle protestors at Al-Aqsa Mosque
|Saturday, March 6,2010 20:45|
Israeli police on Friday battled Muslims at the Al-Aqsa Mosquecompound, one of Islam's holiest sites, drawing Palestinian criticism on the eve of a US push to revive peace talks between the two sides.
Police and hospital officials said several dozen people were wounded in the clashes, which ended with police leaving the compound after negotiating with Muslim authorities there.
There were also clashes in Ras el-Amud and Issawiya, in the predominantly Arab eastern part of Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after the 1967 Middle East war.
By dusk the confrontations had abated.
US President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell is expected to arrive in the region on Saturday and Vice President Joe Biden is due early next week.
The two are to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders and are expected to launch indirect talks between the sides as a prelude to full-fledged peace negotiations.
On Wednesday, Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo lent their support to indirect US-mediated talks, which they said should not exceed four months.
Hospitals in east Jerusalem admitted about 30 demonstrators for injuries caused by rubber bullets and teargas, medical staff said.
Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina slammed "the escalation of Israeli violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank aimed at sabotaging American efforts to relaunch" Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The compound containing the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock is Islam's third-holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Jews call the site Temple Mount and consider it their holiest site.
"Our officers entered the compound after volleys of stones were thrown at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall, below the mosque compound," he told AFP.
Police cleared the Jewish site of visitors when the stones started raining down.
There were similar outbreaks at the compound last Sunday after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he was placing two West Bank shrines -- The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem -- on a list of Israeli heritage sites.
In Hebron on Friday, hundreds of Muslim worshippers protested at the tomb site, which is revered by Muslims and Jews and known in Islam as the Ibrahimi mosque. Israeli troops who police the site fired tear gas and stun grenades to break up the crowd, some of whom waved Palestinian flags and chanted, "The Ibrahimi mosque is ours."
The Islamic Hamas movement, which opposes acknowledging Israel, said the Israeli use of force in Jerusalem and Hebron was a consequence of Abbas and his Western-backed administration's agreement to deal even indirectly with the Israelis.
"The Israeli escalation in Jerusalem and Hebron is a natural result of the decision to resume negotiations," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahra said in a statement, which hinted further unrest, could lie ahead.
"All the options are open to our people", it said.