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Israeli police storm Jerusalem's holiest shrine

Fifteen Palestinians were arrested and three Israeli officers were injured during Sunday's clashes near the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 25, 2009

Palestinian youths hurled stones during clashes with Israeli police at Jerusalem's holiest site on Sunday.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

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Jerusalem

The area around Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque was the site of clashes again early Sunday, following ongoing tensions over the site holy to both Muslims and Jews.

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Palestinians threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, who responded by firing stun grenades, Israeli officials said. Palestinians, however, said that the clashes ensued when Israeli police raided the compound, where Palestinian activists had been holed up since the night before.

Fifteen Palestinians were arrested and three Israeli officers were injured. The Palestinian news agency Ma'an said about 10 Palestinians suffered light injuries.

The clashes follow what had been a week or more of quiet since similar skirmishes. Israel's police have been on high alert since Saturday, after Arabs in East Jerusalem and northern Israel were urged by leaders to come protect the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. Afterwards, right-wing Israeli activists also called on Jews to come en masse to visit the Temple Mount – the term they use for the same plateau on which the al-Aqsa Mosque sits.

"What we can confirm is that we in general are dealing with both East Jerusalem, where there were calls to come and protect the Temple Mount, and from Islamic groups in the north, which called on people to come Jerusalem to reach the Temple Mount," says Israel Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. "Anyone beneath the age of 50 who tried to come to the Temple Mount was turned away," he says.

Excavations under the mosque?

The clashes come after a month of similar tensions during which Israeli police barred access to the al-Aqsa Mosque to men under the age of 50. Palestinians say the restrictions are unacceptable, and many charge Israel with endangering the al-Aqsa Mosque with area excavations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that those accusations were false.

"We are talking about a radical minority that spread lies that we intend to dig under the Temple Mount," Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting last week. "I want to make clear that this is a lie," he said. "I appreciate that the majority of Israel's Arab citizens were not caught up in these provocations."

Israelis arrest Arab leaders

On Sunday, Israeli police also arrested the Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister of Jerusalem affairs, Hatam Abd al-Qader, on suspicion of disorderly conduct. Police said he attacked officers and urged worshippers to hold an illegal protest march.

Police also detained Ali Abu Sheikha, one of the leaders of the Islamic Movement of the North, based in the northern Israeli town of Umm el-Fahm. It's leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, has continually called on his supporters to defend the al-Aqsa Mosque from purported Israeli plans to destroy it. Mr. Salah was recently banned by Israel from visiting Jerusalem for a period of a month.

Nabil Abu Rudeinah, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said the president was warning Israel "of the repercussions of raiding the al-Aqsa mosque and asks that it stop all these provocations." Israeli police said they did not enter the mosque, but had only surrounded it.

Abed Raoud Mughan, a Palestinian-Israeli, was one of those who came to Jerusalem from northern Israel to pray at the encouragement of leaders there. "We think Israel's intention is to take over the mosque completely," he says. "This is the most dangerous period that the mosque has seen."

Baha Fukhuri, a Palestinian East Jerusalemite, said he came to the mosque early in the morning Sunday when the clashes broke out. "The area of the holy sanctuary looked like a battlefield," he says.

Israel captured the Old City, including Muslim, Jewish, and Christian holy sites, in the 1967 Middle East war. The Temple Mount or Noble Sanctuary, holy to Jews and Muslims, has been a point of friction on many occasions since, most recently as the spark of the second intifada, also known as the al-Aqsa Intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israel, in September 2000.

Nuha Musleh in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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