Israelis, Palestinians clash in Jerusalem

Hastily convened talks between 2 sides credited with limiting violence

April 03, 2004|By Laura King | Laura King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - In an angry confrontation staged on the sacred ground where the current Palestinian uprising erupted more than 3 1/2 years ago, Israeli riot police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets yesterday at hundreds of stone-throwing Palestinians in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, while Jewish worshipers fled for cover in the Western Wall plaza below.

The clash atop the flagstone plateau, which houses the third-holiest shrine in Islam, was among the most serious outbreaks of violence at the site since the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, began in September 2000 during a visit by then-Cabinet minister Ariel Sharon, now Israel's prime minister.

The latest fighting in the Old City's flashpoint venue came at a moment when Israeli-Palestinian tensions are running high - 11 days after Israel's assassination in the Gaza Strip of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of the radical Islamic group Hamas, and three days before the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

But in what might be an indication of lessons learned by both sides, yesterday's clash did not result in any deaths or serious injuries.

Israeli and Palestinian officials alike credited hastily convened negotiations between Israeli police and Muslim religious authorities with helping to avert what could have been a far more explosive and bloody encounter.

Fourteen Palestinians were arrested, Israeli police said, and Palestinians reported dozens of injuries. A half-dozen Israeli policemen were hurt, but none seriously, according to police spokesman Gil Kleiman.

Elsewhere, the conflict continued with deadlier results. A Palestinian gunman attacked an Israeli settlement in the West Bank early today, killing a settler and wounding his daughter before being shot and killed, the Associated Press reported.

Sharon, in interviews published yesterday in the three leading Israeli newspapers, amplified recent threats made by his government against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, while spelling out in the greatest detail yet his initiative to uproot Jewish settlements in Gaza.

"We need to get out of Gaza, not to be responsible any more for what happens there," the prime minister told the mass-circulation Maariv daily. "I hope by next Passover we will be in the midst of disengagement, because disengagement is good for Israel."

The prime minister, who is under threat of indictment in a bribery case, has in recent days intensified his campaign to win approval for his Gaza initiative from domestic constituents and the Bush administration.

Sharon said in the interviews that he was ordering a halt to new construction in the Gaza settlements in anticipation of an Israeli pullout.

Senior Israeli officials, most recently army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ayalon, have suggested that Israel might move against Arafat in the same way it targeted Yassin. Israeli officials have made similar threats against Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.

"I wouldn't suggest that either one of them should feel secure," Sharon told the Haaretz newspaper. "I wouldn't propose that any insurance company give them coverage."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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