Israeli forces clash with Palestinians on ‘day of rage’

Israel had deployed about 3,000 police after three days of violence at the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem this week.

Palestinians who were barred entry from the Al Aqsa mosque were undeterred and resorted to praying outside the Old City's walls instead. Amir Cohen/Reuters
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JEUSALEM // Israeli security forces clashed with Palestinians in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank on Friday after Hamas called for a “day of rage” over tensions at the Al Aqsa mosque.

In Jerusalem, three police were injured as a firebomb struck their van in the Jabal Mukaber district and five Palestinians were arrested, including at least three youths, police said.

Tensions were running high at nightfall in the area, where security forces were deployed in large numbers.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as protesters pelted them with stones in city neighbourhoods around the Mount of Olives, including in Shuafat refugee camp.

But the situation was calm in the Old City and at the Al Aqsa mosque compound. According to officials, about 3,000 police had been deployed after three days of violence this week at the sensitive site during the Jewish new year.

In the West Bank, however, skirmishes were more intense than usual for a Friday, which has become a day of protests following weekly Muslim prayers.

At Kafr Kaddum near Nablus, Israeli fire wounded three Palestinians in their arms and legs, said the Red Crescent.

Youths hurled projectiles at police near Ofer prison, Qalandiya checkpoint and Jalazun refugee camp – flashpoints in the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Protesters adopted the same slogan everywhere.

“By our soul and our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you Al Aqsa,” chanted hundreds of protesters gathered in Nablus and the Gaza Strip.

The Al Aqsa mosque compound, known to Muslims as Al Haram Al Sharif – or the Noble Sanctuary – also houses the famous golden Dome of the Rock shrine.

Believed to be where the Prophet Mohammed made his night journey to heaven, it is the third-holiest site in Islam after the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, both in Saudi Arabia.

It is also the most sacred site in Judaism, said to be the location of the biblical temples.

Jews are allowed to visit the site, which they call the Temple Mount, but cannot pray there to avoid raising further tensions.

Police had set up heavily manned checkpoints on streets leading up to the site on Friday, before an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 worshippers prayed, down from the average of 25,000 to 35,000.

“It’s a frontline,” said Mazen Shawish, 52. “You have to go though 20 military checkpoints to get to the mosque.”

Hundreds of young men denied entry prayed just outside the Old City’s walls instead.

Police said they had received an intelligence warning that Arab youths were planning fresh confrontations and decided to keep them away by limiting the age of worshippers to 40 and above for men.

In Jordan, thousands of protesters on Friday rallied in the capital Amman and other cities to denounce Israeli violence at the Al Aqsa compound.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Thursday night, saying that the Jewish state “is strictly maintaining the status quo”.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, said on Friday that its foreign affairs and defence committees had authorised the call-up of reservists from the paramilitary border police, “in response to the deteriorating security situation in Jerusalem”.

It did not indicate when such a mobilisation would take place, or its likely size and duration.

* Agence France-Presse