Seven people were arrested – and at least another seven were injured – after clashes between police and Palestinians today in the Jerusalem Old City compound housing the al-Aqsa mosque.
The early morning confrontation in the area holiest to Muslims and Jews came in the wake of others in and around Hebron last week, triggered by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inclusion of religious sites in the West Bank in a Jewish heritage plan.
Police said that a small group of around 20 masked Palestinians threw stones at visitors to the compound before fleeing into the mosque. Palestinian officials said that young men had spent the night in the mosque in the belief that right-wing religious Jews planned to enter the compound. The Western Wall just below the compound is revered by Jews as the remains of the perimeter wall of the Second Temple.
Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said officers had arrested seven Palestinians, while four policemen had been injured by rocks.
Palestinian medical sources said three Palestinians had been taken to hospital with injuries caused by rubber bullets, while others were treated for inhaling tear gas.
After several days of violence between Palestinians and security forces, tensions remain high in the West Bank city of Hebron, where the Cave of the Patriarchs, housing a mosque and a synagogue, is one of the designated heritage sites under the Netanyahu plan.
Jewish settlers today marched towards the site, to celebrate the festival of Purim. Police dispersed without incident a few Palestinian youngsters who appeared ready to disrupt it.
Mr Netanyhau seemed partially to row back on his heritage list last week, saying there had been a “misunderstanding”. But Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, yesterday accused Israel of exacerbating tensions “The message is very, very clear: they are trying to sabotage all efforts to revive peace,” he said.
*An Israeli army reservist lieutenant has been suspended over an incident on Saturday in which four Palestinian civilians were injured when soldiers shot at their car as it was being driven in a village between Hebron and Bethlehem.