HUNDREDS of Israeli police stormed one of Islam's holiest shrines last night, firing stun grenades and tear gas to disperse hundreds of Muslim worshippers who threw stones, bottles and refuse in outrage over Israeli renovation work at a disputed Jerusalem temple.The clash came after days of tensions over the work and raised concern that protests at the site could spread
HUNDREDS of Israeli police stormed one of Islam's holiest shrines last night, firing stun grenades and tear gas to disperse hundreds of Muslim worshippers who threw stones, bottles and refuse in outrage over Israeli renovation work at a disputed Jerusalem temple.The clash came after days of tensions over the work and raised concern that protests at the site could spread to the West Bank and Gaza, as they did at the start of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000 after a visit from then opposition leader Ariel Sharon.
About 200 police stormed the hilltop compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, to try to quell the protests, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The situation grew violent after about 150 protesters barricaded themselves inside the al-Aqsa Mosque at the complex.
But police did not enter the mosque, and about 90 minutes after the protesters entered, they began to leave, following negotiations between officers and Muslim representatives. At that point, police pronounced themselves in control of the situation.
Israeli authorities promised that the plan to replace a centuries-old bridge leading to the compound, damaged in a 2004 snowstorm, would not harm the holy site, about 60m away. But as work began this week, it drew fierce protests in the Arab world, where many leaders accused Israel of plotting to harm Muslim holy sites.
"This is an aggression against the mosque," the mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, said by telephone from inside the walled compound. "I don't know what impact this aggression will have on the Palestinian territories, but past experience has shown that every time there were clashes at the mosque, it engulfed the other parts of the West Bank and Gaza."
When Israel opened a tunnel alongside the compound in 1996, it touched off clashes that killed 80 people. In 2000, when Mr Sharon visited the site, the ensuing riots were followed by years of violence.
In the alleys of the Old City, Palestinians pelted police with rocks, bottles and garbage. In the West Bank, youths hurled stones at Israeli forces at a checkpoint leading into Jerusalem. Scheduled protest marches went ahead peacefully elsewhere in the West Bank, and demonstrations were planned in Gaza.
"This is a great danger. We can't remain silent," said a Hamas leader, Nizar Rayan, at a celebration of the power-sharing agreement Hamas signed with the rival Fatah faction in Saudi Arabia early yesterday.
Israeli Arabs planned a rally against the repair work in the town of Nazareth later yesterday.
Israeli riot police in helmets scuffled with Muslim worshippers, many middle-aged or elderly. Medics tended the injured on the pavement.
Clouds of tear gas rose at the holy site and stun grenades set off sharp booms. Witnesses said officers fired rubber bullets at the protesters, but the police denied this.
Seventeen protesters and 15 police were injured in the melee, and 17 rioters were arrested, police said. Officers shut all of the Old City gates leading to the complex, and disconnected loudspeakers they said were used to incite worshippers.
Jewish worshippers were evacuated from the Western Wall at the foot of the compound.
The complex, home to the Dome of the Rock shrine and al-Aqsa mosque, is sacred for Muslims, who believe it is where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. The compound is sacred to Jews as the site of their biblical temple.
The clashes erupted at the end of Friday prayers at the site. Police had braced for riots during the prayers, a frequent flashpoint for clashes.
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