Image: Palestinian woman
Emilio Morenatti  /  AP
A Palestinian woman watches as Muslim worshippers stand in a crowd and wait to cross an Israeli army checkpoint in Bethlehem on Friday.
updated 10/5/2007 6:20:15 PM ET 2007-10-05T22:20:15

Thousands of Palestinians thronged military checkpoints on the outskirts of Jerusalem on Friday, trying to reach a major Muslim shrine in the city for Ramadan prayers despite an Israeli army closure.

Israeli troops in jeeps, on foot and horseback were deployed at crossings from the West Bank into Jerusalem to control the crowds trying to get to the Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan draws to a close next week.

At the Qalandia checkpoint north of Jerusalem, harried troops waved clubs, shouted and occasionally used stun grenades as tempers flared and frustrated Palestinians surged toward the roadblock. One elderly man fainted, and was treated by an army medic. No serious injuries were reported.

Friday prayers at Al Aqsa regularly draw thousands of worshippers, and crowds are bigger than usual during Ramadan. Around 135,000 filled the mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, and prayers ended with no disturbances, police said.

Israel clamped a closure on the West Bank last week, barring Palestinians from entering Israel, citing concern of possible attacks during the seven-day Jewish festival of Sukkot. The festival ended Thursday, but the closure was slated to end Saturday night, the military said.

Despite the closure, Israeli police had orders to let in West Bank men over the age of 50 and women over 40, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. More than 3,000 Israeli police were stationed around Jerusalem’s Old City to keep order during the prayers, he said.

At Qalandia, north of Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians, most of them elderly, pushed toward troops controlling access to the passage and argued with police checking ID cards.

Maher Walweil, 43, said he left his home in the West Bank city of Nablus at 4 a.m. to get to Jerusalem in time for prayers — even though he knew the Israeli age restrictions left him little chance of getting in.

“There’s a lot of soldiers here. What am I going to do against these soldiers?” he said.

Iranian, Afghan protests against Israel
In Iran, meanwhile, millions attended nationwide rallies Friday in support of the Palestinians and to protest Israel’s continued hold on Jerusalem.

The demonstrations for “Al-Quds Day” — Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem — also spilled over into anti-American protests because of U.S. support for Israel.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel’s continued existence was an “insult to human dignity.”

In Afghanistan, hundreds of Kabul University students marched in a Jerusalem Day demonstration there, burning effigies of President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

A possible division of Jerusalem, a city claimed by Israelis and Palestinians as a capital, is one of the key issues in a future peace agreement.

Ahead of a U.S.-hosted Mideast conference, to be held later this fall, Israeli and Palestinian drafting teams are to write a joint document with principles guiding future negotiations.

The document would address the so-called core issues, including the fate of Jerusalem, but not provide detailed solution, Palestinian negotiators have said.

Palestinian official pushes for timeline
Palestinian leaders want the conference to set a six-month deadline for negotiating a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty with Israel, Palestinian information minister Riad Malki said Thursday. Israeli and U.S. officials were cool to the idea of locking talks into a timeline.

Image: Israel police officer
Marta Ramoneda  /  AP
An Israeli Border Police officer scuffles with Palestinian Muslim worshippers as they try to cross an Israeli army checkpoint in Bethlehem on Friday.
Malki said the conference is expected to back the declaration, and said the sides should then move swiftly to finalize the details.

“After six months of negotiations, all the participants would return to a peace conference, to endorse our agreement with Israel,” he said of the Palestinian proposal.

David Baker, an Israeli government official, said Israel is serious about negotiating a deal, but that “this is not merely a product of how much time elapses.”

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the conference, said the U.S. is “not looking at timelines.”

The U.S. has not yet set a date for the conference or released a list of participants.

The Israeli daily Haaretz on Friday quoted Israeli officials as saying it would take place Nov. 26. Palestinian officials said they were unaware of a date, but were told the conference would not be held before Nov. 22.

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