Israeli police clash with Palestinians at Jerusalem flashpoint

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of police clashed with stone-throwing Palestinian demonstrators yesterday on the Temple Mount outside the al-Aqsa mosque yesterday. The confrontation after Muslim Friday prayers was one of the sharpest at the site, which is holy to both Muslim and Jews, since the present intifada began three and half years ago.

Hundreds of police clashed with stone-throwing Palestinian demonstrators yesterday on the Temple Mount outside the al-Aqsa mosque yesterday. The confrontation after Muslim Friday prayers was one of the sharpest at the site, which is holy to both Muslim and Jews, since the present intifada began three and half years ago.

Police, who arrested 14 people, said that they fired stun grenades, tear gas and rubber pellets in an attempt to disperse what had become hundreds of stone-throwers after the end of Friday prayers. Palestinians reported at least 15 people were injured.

Many hundreds of Muslims withdrew to the mosque, some emerging to continue throwing stones at police, until an end to the stand-off was negotiated between the Jerusalem police chief, Mickey Levy, and leaders of the Muslim Waqf, which is in charge of the mosque. The worshippers left quietly in return for the police agreeing to make no further arrests.

The trouble appeared to have started after some Palestinian youths threw stones at police deployed in the area. In response, hundreds of officers with helmets and plastic shields moved rapidly into the walled mosque compound to disperse the crowd. The Western Wall rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, said that Muslims had thrown only one stone at Jewish worshippers, and that visitors had continued to come to the Western Wall plaza. Witnesses said that Mohammed Hussein, a senior official in the administration of the mosque compound, tried to calm the situation, urging worshippers to return home.

Police did not do what they did the previous Friday, which was to bar Palestinians under 45 from entering the mosque and the compound for Friday prayers. Israel Radio reported that they had no prior intelligence of any plans to attack officers or Jewish worshippers at the Wailing Wall.

The clashes came hours after the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, said in published interviews that the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and the Lebanese guerrilla chief Hassan Nasrallah could become targets for assassination.

The US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, said: "Our position on such questions - the exile or assassination of Yasser Arafat - is very well known. We are opposed and we have made that very clear to the government of Israel."

It was not clear whether Washington had repeated its view to the Israeli government.

Mr Sharon has begun his campaign to secure support for his plan for unilateral "disengagement" from Gaza and a very limited number of settlements - as few as four - in the northern West Bank. In a series of interviews with Israeli newspapers timed for the beginning of the Jewish Passover holiday next week, he indicated that he planned a withdrawal from Gaza which meant an end to all Jewish settlements on the strip, but would leave an army presence on the Philadelphia Road on the southern Gaza border with Egypt in Rafah.

He said: "We need to get out of Gaza, not to be responsible any more for what happens there. I hope that by next Passover we will be in the midst of disengagement, because disengagement is good for Israel."

The Prime Minister said that after the withdrawal Israel would consider cutting off water and electricity to Gaza if attacks against Israelis continued.

In Gaza yesterday Palestinians said a 19-year-old man was killed in exchanges of gunfire after tanks entered Rafah looking for tunnels used to smuggle in weapons from Egypt. Later a Palestinian man armed with a Kalashnikov rifle and grenades was killed by Israeli army gunfire as he approached a road to the settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip.

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