Israeli Police Storm Disputed Holy Site

Friday , April 02, 2004




A standoff between Muslim worshippers and Israeli police at a Jerusalem holy site is over, police say.

Earlier Friday, cops stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque (search) at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after worshippers began throwing stones at police after Muslim prayers. In return, authorities began firing tear gas, plastic bullets and stun grenades at stone throwers. Worshippers barricaded themselves in two mosques in the walled compound.

Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said officers entered the compound only after the stones began flying. More than 20 Palestinians were wounded, Muslim clerics said.

The sacred hilltop in the Old City of Jerusalem (search) is known to Jews as theTemple Mount (search), the holiest site in Judaism. The mosque is considered Islam's third-holiest site. Muslims call it the Noble Sanctuary.

Mohammed Hussein, a senior official in the Islamic Trust that administers the mosque compound, tried to calm the situation, urging worshippers to go home, witnesses said. Most left, but several hundred stone-throwers remained behind.

An agreement was reached where the worshippers would be allowed to leave as long as they stopped rioting; those inside the mosque were slowly trickling out of the compound at 7:30 a.m. EST.

Others, fearing the clashes outside, remained holed up in two mosques and police were negotiating with Muslim authorities to remove them.

"Lots of worshippers are inside the mosque, trying to get out, but the Israeli police is outside," said Adnan Husseini, director of the Islamic Trust.

Husseini said they were trying to persuade the police to move away from the compound, to allow worshippers to go home.

Witnesses said that as people tried to leave, police threw stun grenades at them and tried to arrest them.

Both Israel and the Palestinians claim the site, and the conflict has torpedoed several rounds of peace talks. The current round of Palestinian-Israeli violence erupted after Ariel Sharon, now prime minister, visited the site in September 2000.

Six people were seen being carried away on stretchers and Associated Press Television News cameraman Rauhi Razem was injured by a stun grenade that went off nearby. The grenade split open his ear lobe and he required stitches.

"We were still praying, the next thing we knew dozens of police were in the compound. They started firing stun grenades and tear gas," said worshipper Ramsi Jamil, 18, who said police beat him with a baton.

"We didn't get a chance to finish our prayer... While I was praying a tear gas canister went through the door into the mosque," said Ismail Ibrihim, 35.

Ben-Ruby said police arrested nine Palestinians who were caught throwing rocks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.