Holy City encircled by a ring of steel

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The Independent Online

A tense hush descended over Jerusalem yesterday as the Jewish Sabbath began amid renewed fears of Palestinian suicide bombings and attacks on Jewish holy sites.

A tense hush descended over Jerusalem yesterday as the Jewish Sabbath began amid renewed fears of Palestinian suicide bombings and attacks on Jewish holy sites.

Two weeks after a visit by the right-wing leader, Ariel Sharon, to Jerusalem's Temple Mount sparked the worst violence between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in years, Israeli police threw a ring of steel around the city and its holy sites.

Units patrolled the hilltops overlooking routes into the city, on the lookout for stone-throwing gangs, and at the perimeter of the Old City they beat back young Palestinian men as Muslims arrived for midday prayers at the Noble Sanctuary, the third holiest site in Islam.

Police had concentrated their ban on men under age 45, calculating they would be most likely to start trouble. But the heavy-handed use of clubs and batons to keep them out, led to a hail of stones and bottles, in a riot that left at least two Palestinians and one policeman hurt.

"They won't allow me to go and pray," said Abu Abdullah Sahir, 29. "After everything else that has happened, this makes me very angry."

Meanwhile, the city's busiest streets swarmed with police and paramilitary patrols, after Israeli accusations that Yasser Arafat has given his blessing to a new campaign of terrorism by Islamic militants.

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