By Meredith Lee-Clark
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
JERUSALEM, Israel/West Bank – On September 27, fighting inside and outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem has further heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, tensions that have already been strained after recent Israeli refusals to halt settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
After noon prayers on Sunday, September 27, fighting broke out, though the exact chain of events is unclear. Israeli police said that Muslim worshippers began throwing rocks at tourists. Palestinians have claimed that Jews from radical groups attempted to enter the mosque on the eve of the Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur. Regardless of what set off the initial event, Palestinians began loud protests, and Israeli police responded with tear gas and stun grenades. Thirty to forty people were injured and at least five people were arrested.
Mosque officials reported that they had asked Israeli police to not open the Moroccan Gate to any tourists on Sunday, in order to prevent any protests from Jewish settlers, but the police refused to do so. Instead, mosque officials said that police opened the gate early in the morning, and protected the settlers as they entered the mosque compound.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, accused the Israelis of deliberately stoking tensions.
“At a time when [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama is trying to bridge the divide between Palestinians and Israelis, and to get negotiations back on track, Israel is deliberately escalating tensions in Jerusalem,” said Erekat on Sunday evening.
Erekat said the situation was reminiscent of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to the site in 2000. Sharon’s visit to Islam’s third-holiest site triggered the start of the Second Palestinian Intifada, or Uprising.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesperson, called for Palestinians to rise up in response to the incident, calling it a “Zionist crime.”
With Israeli government offices closed for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, there was no official comment immediately following the skirmishes. There was no sign that any fighting at the Dome of the Rock continued the next day, though teens in Bethlehem threw rocks at an Israeli military watchtower, and Israeli military personnel responded by throwing a stun grenade.
For more information, please see:
Al-Jazeera – Arab Officials Condemn Aqsa Raid – 28 September 2009
Ha’aretz – Erekat: Israel Deliberately Escalating Tensions in Jerusalem – 28 September 2009
Ma’an News Agency – Bethlehem Teens Hurl Stones at Watchtower After Al-Aqsa Violence – 28 September 2009
Reuters – Palestinian “Moderate” Govt Slams Israel on Mosque – 28 September 2009
Palestinian News Network – Extremists Have Attempted for Weeks to Storm Al Aqsa – 27 September 2009