Clashes erupt at Temple Mount

Israelis, Palestinians blame each other in third day of violence

September 30, 2000|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Bloodshed and anger rocked the Holy City and the West Bank yesterday as Israeli police used live ammunition and rubber bullets to quell Palestinian rioting at a plateau sacred to Muslims and Jews and a Palestinian policeman shot and killed an Israeli counterpart on a joint patrol.

In all, the past three days of clashes and bombings have killed four Palestinians and two Israelis, injured hundreds, and brought the worst violence in four years to the Temple Mount, or Haram al Sharif, the shrine at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

More may be in store. Fatah, the leading Palestinian political movement, has called a strike for today and three days of mourning, setting the stage for demonstrations.

Yesterday's "Battle of Jerusalem," as it was dubbed by the Voice of Palestine radio station, followed riots Thursday that were triggered by a visit to the Temple Mount by a group of right-wing Israeli politicians led by Likud leader Ariel Sharon, a lightning rod for Arab hatred.

Clashes began with stone-throwing and gunfire at the close of Muslim prayers that regularly fill the mount's esplanade and mosques with 20,000 worshippers. Witnesses said 1,000 or more Israeli policemen were close by.

Which side started it is a matter of dispute. Israeli police said Palestinians hurled stones over the Western Wall at Jewish worshippers below in an attack that police Inspector Gen. Yehuda Wilk suspected was planned.

Wilk said he feared the Palestinians wanted to break through the gate and surge down a ramp to the Western Wall. Israeli police snipers used live ammunition in two or three instances of particular danger to police, he said.

Israeli officials also said the Muslim prayers included inflammatory rhetoric.

A Palestinian journalist who interviewed witnesses said the trouble began when Palestinians hurled rocks and insults at soldiers massed at one of the main gates to the compound. The soldiers quickly fired their weapons.

But Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent Palestinian political figure, and a human-rights group put the blame squarely on the Israelis.

"People are looking at this as yet another massacre committed by the Israelis against the Palestinians. This is not an act of just random violence," Ashrawi said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. "This is not an act of response to Palestinian action. This is another deliberate act targeting peaceful worshippers in another holy place."The Palestinian human rights group LAW charged that the shooting began a few moments before the end of the prayers. "Eyewitnesses stated that they saw Israeli soldiers, policemen and special unit agents getting on the roofs of the nearby houses and surrounding the worshippers from all sides firing bullets and gas bombs," the group said in a statement.

At Al Makasset Hospital on the Mount of Olives, where many of the Palestinian injured were taken, Ismail Radadeh, 19, winced and jerked in pain from rubber-bullet wounds in his arm and foot. He said he was praying, and, "Suddenly, there were gunshots." He said he was shot as he tried to leave the compound.

As he spoke, Palestinian youths hurled rocks at helmeted Israeli police a quarter-mile away in one of several spillover riots in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Police fired rubber bullets, sending more injured to the hospital.

Dr. Khaled Qurei, Al Makesset's director, said the three patients pronounced dead at his hospital had been hit with live fire. A fourth patient was "brain-dead" from a rubber bullet that penetrated his head. Police used conventional and high-velocity bullets, he said.

Israelis reported 29 injuries, including a head injury to the commander of the Jerusalem police, Maj. Gen. Yai'r Yizthaki. The Magen David Adom ambulance service said some of its ambulances were stoned as they evacuated Israeli and Palestinian wounded. When an ambulance was abandoned after its occupants were transferred, protesters set it afire.

In other clashes, rioters hurled stones, firebombs, and acid bottles, set cars on fire and burned tires. A tourist bus was stoned, and five tourists were injured, police said. Rioters also threw firebombs and stones at soldiers guarding Rachel's Tomb, a Jewish holy site in Bethlehem.

The Temple Mount is the main stumbling block to a breakthrough in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Top negotiators ended two days of talks in Washington without any clear sign of progress this week.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is prepared to relinquish total Israeli control over the Temple Mount but rejects a Palestinian demand that it be placed under full Palestinian or Muslim sovereignty.

Before the clashes yesterday, a Palestinian policeman, identified as a veteran of joint patrols with Israeli officers in the West Bank, shot and killed an Israeli Border Police inspector and slightly injured his comrade in the town of Qalkilya.

The assailant was described as mentally disturbed, reacting wildly to insults by the Israelis, but the killing points to a breakdown in cooperation in areas where Israelis and Palestinians share responsibility.

In a telephone call, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat pledged to Barak that the man responsible would be punished.

Meanwhile, Israel acted to punish the Palestinians economically for the death of an Israeli soldier after a roadside bomb attack in Gaza Wednesday. Israel barred trucks from carrying construction material for a new port in Gaza designed to make the Palestinians independent in trade with the rest of the world and blocked delivery of materials for construction of a new power station.

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