Jerusalem: new clashes rock Temple Mount

Hundreds of Muslim worshippers clashed with police Feb. 24 at Jerusalem's Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Israeli authorities said that following Friday prayers, a large group of worshippers began hurling rocks at the controversial Mughrabi Bridge leading to the Mount. In a rare move, Israeli police came to the entrance of al-Aqsa Mosque, using tear gas and stun grenades to scatter the protesters. The clash caused confusion amongst the large crowd of worshippers gathered at the holy site. Authorities said 15 Palestinians and 11 police were injured, and four Palestinians were arrested. In light of scattered incidents at the Temple Mount this week, police had heightened their presence at the site on Friday morning. These were the most serious clashes at the Temple Mount since the recent wave of protests began two weeks ago.

The protest wave began after far-right Israeli politician Moshe Feiglin tried to make a publicized visit to the Temple Mount, and called on Jews to visit the site. Leaflets were distributed around the city calling for removal of "Israel's enemies" from the site. Police blocked Feiglin from entering, and briefly closed the compound Feb. 12, saying they feared unrest. Feiglin earlier this month challenged Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from the right in a Likud primary.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said of the new clashes: "This is a serious attack that intends to impose full Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa a prelude to the establishment of the supposed [Third] Temple." Earlier this week, the Palestinian Authority cabinet protested "continuous attempts by settlers and extremists to raid Al-Aqsa Mosque and conduct religious rituals on its campuses in a manner that provokes Muslim sentiments and creates a state of tension." The statement said it held Israeli authorities responsible.

Rumors of the clash at the Haram al-Sharif sparked at least one clash on the West Bank, as protesters gathered near the Qalandia checkpoint outside Ramallah. A 25-year-old Palestinian protester died during surgery after being shot in the Qalandia clash.

Also Feb. 24, US representatives Elliot Engel and Jerald Nadler (both D-NY) were on tour of Mount of Olives Cemetery, along with American Jewish leaders Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents, and Abraham and Menachem Lubinsky of International Committee for Preservation of Har HaZeitim, when they were attacked by rocks in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood in front of a mosque, damaging a vehicle. The tour was organized by New York's arch-conservative Jewish Press. The Mount of Olives is also a disputed site, being partially enclosed by Israel's West Bank "separation barrier." (Ha'aretzMa'an News Agency, Feb. 25; Ma'an News AgencyJewish PressTikun Olam, Feb. 24; YNet, Feb. 12; Jerusalem Post, Feb. 1)

See our last posts on IsraelPalestine and the politics of archeology in Jerusalem