Clashes erupt at sacred compound in Jerusalem

Clashes erupted between Muslim worshippers and Israeli riot police at a sacred and disputed hilltop compound.

Updated: Mar 05, 2010, 18:41 PM IST

Jerusalem: Clashes erupted Friday between Muslim worshippers and Israeli riot police at a sacred and disputed hilltop compound following a sermon on a recent Israeli decision to include two West Bank shrines on a list of national heritage sites.
A Palestinian woman was hit in the head with a rubber bullet and was hospitalized in serious condition, an Israeli hospital spokesman said.

Worshippers emerging from Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa mosque threw stones at policemen and at Jews praying below at the Jewish shrine known as the Western Wall, according to Israeli police.

Israeli riot-control forces waiting outside the compound — known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — rushed in to restore order, using stun grenades to disperse the crowd, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. A wall of riot police in light gray uniforms and carrying plexiglass shields advanced toward a crowd of youths hurling stones amid the compound`s stone buildings and cypress trees.

Other Muslim worshippers intervened to try to defuse the clash, and police eventually withdrew in coordination with the Muslim clerics who administer the compound, he said.

Palestinian medics reported 13 injuries. Ron Krumer, a spokesman for Jerusalem`s Hadassah Medical Center, confirmed that one of them was a woman who was wounded in the head by a rubber bullet and hospitalized in serious condition.

Police, who said 15 officers also suffered light injuries, denied using rubber bullets to disperse the riot.

Always tense, the compound has recently seen sporadic clashes linked at least in part to the Israeli government decision to include the West Bank shrines on the heritage site list. The move`s practical ramifications are unclear, but Palestinians see it as a provocation.

Najeh Btirat, an official with the Muslim clerical authority that administers the compound, said the clash followed a mosque sermon on the issue.

"The Friday sermon focused on the Islamic sites that are being targeted by Israel and the need to preserve them," he said. About 300 young men threw stones at police after prayers, he said.

Skirmishes also broke out to the south, in the West Bank city of Hebron, after Friday prayers but no serious injuries were reported. A group of about 100 Palestinians protested outside the holy site known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi mosque.

The Hebron site is one of the two included on the Israeli national heritage list. The other is Rachel`s Tomb, adjacent to the city of Bethlehem. Israel captured both sites, along with the rest of east Jerusalem and the West Bank, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Jerusalem compound is under Israeli security control, but day-to-day administration has been left in the hands of a Muslim clerical body known as the Waqf. Jews are not allowed to pray at the site.

At the Hebron shrine, which has also been a flashpoint for violence in the past, Jews and Muslism worship in different sections of the building.

Bureau Report