Israeli police, Muslims clash in Jerusalem

February 28, 2004|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - Israeli police clashed yesterday with Muslims at a contested holy site in the Old City here, firing rubber pellets and tossing stun grenades to quell what Israel described as a rock attack on officers.

The brief encounter, which Muslim officials said took place after the police officers entered the compound without cause, resulted in minor injuries. It added to the tensions crackling this week, which began with a Palestinian suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus and also saw violence-marred protests over the barrier that Israel is building in and around the West Bank.

The clash yesterday took place on the hilltop compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Both groups lay claim to the site.

The land is sacred to Jews and Muslims. It houses the Dome of the Rock, where Muslims say the Prophet Muhammad departed for heaven, and the Al Aqsa mosque, built on a spot that Jews believe held their First and Second Temples. Both are above the Western Wall.

Palestinian officials said 24 people were hurt during the scuffle, which lasted about 15 minutes. Israeli police said three officers suffered minor injuries.

Israeli authorities said police entered the compound after officers were pelted with rocks by Muslim worshipers leaving Friday prayers. Stones were also hurled at Jewish worshipers gathering at the Western Wall below, Israeli officials said.

Assailants "left the prayers and started rioting - hundreds of them," Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman said.

Muslim officials said the Israelis entered the compound without cause. They said as many as 10,000 worshipers were still in prayer when police stormed into the mosque.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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