Violence erupts at Jerusalem holy site

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Hundreds of angry worshippers threw stones and bottles at police today in an eruption of outrage over contentious Israeli renovation work at a disputed holy site in Jerusalem's Old City.

About 200 police were at the scene on the hilltop compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, to try to quell the violence, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Witnesses said police hurled stun grenades and canisters of tear gas.

Several dozen protesters barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa mosque at the compound, which is Islam's third-holiest site.

Police said several protesters and several officers were injured, but gave no further details.

The clashes erupted at the end of today's prayers at the site. Police had braced for possible riots during the prayers, which often have been a flashpoint for clashes.

About 3,000 police were deployed around the city - about triple the usual number - in anticipation of unrest over Israeli repair work on an earthen ramp leading to the complex.

Israeli authorities promised that the plan to replace a centuries-old ramp damaged in a 2004 snowstorm would not damage the compound, about 60 metres away. But as work began earlier this week, it drew fierce protests in the Arab world, where many leaders accused Israel of plotting to harm Muslim holy sites.

Israeli officials have said Muslim extremists are using the renovation work as a pretext to stoke anger against Israel.

Speaking during a visit to Spain yesterday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni accused "political extremists" of trying to "exploit this situation."

The compound, home to the golden-capped Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa mosque, is sacred for Muslims, who believe that it is where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

The compound is sacred to Jews as the site of their biblical temples.

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