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Confrontation Erupts at Jerusalem Shrine

Associated Press | June 6, 2005
By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI

JERUSALEM -- Israeli police stormed a disputed Jerusalem holy site Monday, hurling stun grenades to disperse hundreds of Palestinian worshippers who were throwing stones at police and Jewish visitors.

The confrontation erupted as Israel marked "Jerusalem Day," the anniversary of its capture of traditionally Arab east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. The disputed holy site, the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, is in east Jerusalem, claimed by the Palestinians as a future capital.

Also Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told a parliamentary committee that the military would forcibly disarm settlers to be evacuated from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank this summer if they didn't turn in their weapons voluntarily, participants in the closed-door meeting said.

Mofaz also said he would urge settlers to evacuate their children before the withdrawal to spare them traumatic sights. "I urge them not to allow their children to be involved in any aspect of the evacuation," he said after the meeting of parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Asked whether the pullout, scheduled to begin in mid-August, would take place under fire, Mofaz replied: "It has been decided that the disengagement will not take place under fire. We will do everything possible to coordinate the disengagment with the Palestinians."

Palestinian officials said Israel was late on the promised handover of maps of Gaza's Jewish settlements, an important element of coordination. The office of Palestinian Cabinet minister Mohammed Dahlan, who is in charge of coordinating the pullout with Israel, said Israel was to have supplied the maps on Sunday.

In Jerusalem, 3,000 police were deployed to prevent possible friction on Jerusalem Day, which Israelis mark with marches and speeches.

With tensions running high, a confrontation erupted as several Jewish visitors toured the Al Aqsa compound, accompanied by police.

Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said hundreds of Palestinians threw stones at the visitors and their police guards. Additional forces stormed the walled compound, throwing stun grenades to disperse the crowd, Ben-Ruby said.

A Palestinian man who tried to attack a Jewish visitor was arrested, he said. Two Jewish visitors were slightly hurt by stones.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the Jews should not have been allowed into the mosque compound. "The Israeli government and the international community must stop these unjustified and dangerous violations. They are to prevent any friction with bad results," he said during a tour of a Palestinian high school in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Adnan Husseini, director of the Islamic Trust, which runs the mosque compound, said he had urged police to bar Jewish visitors from the site because of the tensions over Jerusalem Day.

The compound, home to the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques, is one of the most volatile areas in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The site is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, home to their biblical temples. In 2000, a demonstrative visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the shrine triggered bloody protests that escalated into more than four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

After the outbreak of fighting, the mosque compound was closed to non-Muslims for some time. However, tours by visitors of other faiths resumed last year, and Jewish visitors are accompanied by police to prevent friction with Muslim worshippers.

Also Monday, dozens of Israeli army trucks, tractors and earthmovers were painted orange, the color adopted by opponents of a Gaza withdrawal, the army said. The heavy equipment was parked on a lot near Gaza, and presumably would be used during the withdrawal.

Meanwhile, Palestinian and Israeli officials prepared for a visit by British Foreign Minister Jack Straw on Tuesday.


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