Violence erupts across East Jerusalem

George Mitchell postpones visit as Palestinians clash with Israeli soldiers

Fifteen policemen and at least 40 Palestinians were injured yesterday in clashes between stone-throwing protesters and armed Israeli security forces in Arab East Jerusalem.

The violence, the most widespread in the city for many months, came as US presidential envoy George Mitchell put off a planned visit to the city because of the continuing diplomatic deadlock.

With tension remaining high in the wake of the announcement – condemned by the US – of plans to expand an East Jerusalem settlement, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton moved to calm the diplomatic row with Israel, while saying there were "intense talks" about confidence steps it needed to take to re-open indirect talks with the Palestinians.

But hundreds of protesting Palestinians faced tear gas and rubber bullets from Israeli police in a series of districts of East Jerusalem, the sector occupied by Israel after the 1967 Six Day War and which Palestinians want as the capital of a future state.

Police said 60 Palestinians were arrested in rioting, which had been encouraged by Hamas's call for a "day of rage" in protest at Monday's re-dedication of a synagogue in the Old City's Jewish Quarter. Hamas claimed that this move endangers the Al Aqsa Mosque 400m away. Police said the injured policemen were mainly hit by stones, but one was shot in the hand last night.

Mrs Clinton used more emollient language than she had on Friday – when she described as "insulting" the announcement of plans to build 1,600 new housing units in an ultra-orthodox settlement during US Vice-President Joe Biden's visit to the region last week.

Emphasising Washington's "absolute commitment" to Israel's security and the "close, unshakeable bond" between the two countries, she said yesterday that while the US had expressed its "dismay and disappointment", it was now time to "move forward". She added: "I think we'll see what the next days hold, and we're looking forward to Senator Mitchell returning to the region and beginning the proximity talks."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later welcomed Mrs Clinton's "warm words" but insisted that Israel "has proven over the last year that it is committed to peace, both in words and actions". Mrs Clinton declined to say when Mr Mitchell would travel. The State Department on Monday indicated that Washington was still awaiting a response to a series of US demands of Israel – widely believed to include the scrapping of a plan for the expansion of the Ramat Shlomo ultra-orthodox settlement which triggered the row.

Mrs Clinton added: "We are engaged in very active consultations with the Israelis over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to the process." US diplomats were also in touch with officials in the moderate-led Palestinian Authority in Ramallah over the last 36 hours, to urge them to discourage violent protests in Jerusalem.

Israeli police turned back buses carrying Israeli Arabs travelling towards Jerusalem yesterday morning. A closure to prevent Palestinians reaching the City, and a bar on men under 50 reaching Al Aqsa Mosque, has also been in force. The latter measure ensured that the holy sites were largely quiet, with most of the violence occurring in East Jerusalem districts outside the Old City. With 3,000 police deployed across the city yesterday, the force was ordered to remain on high alert in the Old City and elsewhere across east Jerusalem.

Israel's Police Commissioner, Dud Cohen, said after touring the Old City, "We've seen signs of riots, but this is no third intifada." But Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, likened Israel's political handling of Jerusalem to "pouring oil onto the fire". And Arab Knesset member Haneen Zoubi said it provided "a strong motive for the launch of the third intifada."

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