Israeli police block rally at holy site by right-wing Jews

April 11, 2005|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - With a big show of force around a disputed holy site, Israeli police blocked a small rally by right-wing Jews yesterday that officials had feared might ignite a new round of bloodshed.

After weeks of calm, the city was under extraordinarily tight security as 3,000 police officers set up barricades in and around Jerusalem's Old City to prevent Jewish demonstrators from entering the Temple Mount, a hilltop sacred to Jews and Muslims and a spark for past violence.

Leaders of the group, a previously unknown movement named Revava, had hoped for a big turnout to protest the Israeli government's planned withdrawal this summer of settlers from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank.

But only a few dozen protesters made their way past a thick cordon of police. Authorities said 31 people were arrested, some before they had made it inside the Old City. No injuries were reported.

Police also barred four right-wing members of Israel's parliament from the holy site. The lawmakers, vociferous opponents of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's pullout plan, decried being kept out.

"This will not lead to calm. It will only invite the next wave of terrorism, the next round of violence," parliament member Uri Ariel told Israel Radio.

Israeli authorities spent days preparing for possible turmoil. Officials feared the demonstration could provoke a violent reaction by Palestinians and shatter a truce agreed to last month by Palestinian militant groups.

The heavy police presence reflected Israel's desire to prevent clashes as Sharon headed to the United States for a meeting today with President Bush at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. But it also demonstrated the ability of hard-liners to tie up thousands of Israeli police ahead of the planned withdrawal, which foes hope to disrupt through civil disobedience.

Palestinian groups threatened new attacks if the Jewish demonstrators entered the Al Aqsa mosque compound.

Those threats picked up Saturday when Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinian teens in the Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt. Palestinian witnesses said the boys - ages 14, 15 and 16 - were playing soccer near the border fence when they were hit. The Israeli army said the youths were apparently going to Egypt to smuggle weapons back into Gaza and ignored warning shots as they crossed a forbidden zone at the border.

In retaliation, Palestinian militants fired more than 70 mortar shells and rockets at Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. No casualties were reported.

To head off violence, Israeli police barred Muslim males under age 40 from attending prayers at the Old City site yesterday. Officials reported a few cases of Palestinian youths throwing rocks at police outside the Old City, but the midday prayer took place at the mosque complex without incident.

The prayer drew more than 10,000 worshipers, a larger-than-normal Sunday gathering, after Muslim leaders summoned followers to defend against what they called desecration of the site by Jewish protesters. Hundreds of worshipers spent the night.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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