After two weeks of relative quiet in the Jerusalem area, disturbances again broke out in the city and its periphery yesterday morning. Shortly after the Temple Mount was opened up to tourists and other non-Muslim visitors, several dozen Palestinians began throwing stones at both police and tourists. The police attempted to disperse the stone throwers and the Temple Mount was closed to visitors.
According to Palestinian medical personnel on the scene, 30 worshippers on the Temple Mount required medical attention as a result of the disturbances, among them two first-aid workers and five journalists who had been hit by police. Among those detained was Hatem Abdel Kader, who holds the Jerusalem portfolio in the Fatah leadership. He is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow regarding a request to extend his detention. Abdel Kader was arrested, according to the police, after attacking police officers and calling on worshippers to march out in a procession. Advertisement
Yesterday’s disturbances appear to have been sparked, as in the past, by printed announcements by Jewish groups seeking to gain access to the Temple Mount to pray. The northern branch of the Islamic Movement and other parties, including Abdel Kader, called on the Palestinian public to come to the Temple Mount to defend it. The confrontations then ensued. A senior member of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Ali Abu Sheikha, was detained yesterday in the Old City on suspicion of disturbing the peace and calling on Muslims on the scene to go out and demonstrate.
At another Jerusalem location yesterday afternoon, an Australian journalist was injured in the head by a stone thrown at police and border guards in the Old City. She was treated at the scene and did not require further medical attention.
Over the weekend, the Jerusalem police raised their level of alert following calls by Muslim leaders to “defend the Temple Mount from conquest by Jews” alongside calls from right-wing Jewish activists for Jews to come to the Temple Mount in large numbers. Police deployed reinforcements around the area yesterday, and more generally in the Old City and in East Jerusalem, to prevent disturbances. At the same time, however, they decided not to limit access to Muslim worshipers, Jewish visitors and other tourists to the site, reportedly based on a police policy to enable freedom of worship despite the warnings.
Following a police situation assessment yesterday morning, Police Commissioner David Cohen said the Islamic Movement was directing and fomenting large numbers of East Jerusalem residents and Israeli Arabs on the Temple Mount. “The police,” Cohen said, “will use a heavy hand against those rioters, inciters and demonstrators.” Jerusalem police also pointed a finger at Hamas as a source for the unrest.
The Islamic Movement yesterday accused the police of provoking worshipers at the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, claiming the Islamic Movement had not undertaken any unusual activity over the weekend. A spokesman for the movement’s northern branch, Zahi Najidat, told Haaretz: “Every day we organize buses from all over the country with women and children to the [Temple Mount] mosque plaza to pray and visit the holy site. Over the weekend, there was a routine call for people to come to the mosque and because of the tension over the mosque, many answered the call.” Najidat said the trips to the Temple Mount would continue over the coming days.
The disturbances in the Old City began at about 8 A.M. yesterday when dozens of young Palestinians began throwing stones at police officers who’d arrived at the area near the Temple Mount. The Palestinians also spilled oil in the area, in an apparent attempt to cause members of the police force to slip. The police then entered the Temple Mount compound, emptied it of worshipers, and used stun grenades to arrest three stone-throwers.
The police were met with Molotov cocktails and stones, and were lightly injured, with one taken to Hadassah Ein Karem. Dozens of young people congregated at the Al-Aqsa mosque. Nine others suspected of involvement in the disturbances were arrested at the approaches to the Temple Mount.
MK Talab al-Sana (United Arab List-Ta’al) warned that “Israel was provoking a billion Muslims who would not hesitate to defend the Al-Aqsa mosque with their bodies.” A leading Sunni Muslim religious figure, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, called on the Arab League and the kings of Saudi Arabia and Morocco to intervene immediately over the situation on the Temple Mount.