Israeli police fired rubber bullets and hurled stun grenades Friday near a disputed Jerusalem holy site to disperse dozens of Palestinian stone-throwers among crowds of Muslim worshippers.
Police clashed with crowds at the end of Friday prayers on the Old City’s elevated mosque compound, which overlooks the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest shrine.
It took police about an hour to clear the compound, police spokesman Gil Kleiman said. Two rocks were thrown over the compound’s edge, landing in the Western Wall plaza, and worshippers were briefly evacuated, he said. No injuries were reported.
Control over the holy site, where clashes occasionally erupt, is one of the most hotly contested issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To Jews, the place is revered as the site where the two biblical Temples once stood.
Today it houses two large mosques marking the spot where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
Israel keeps police posted at the site. When violence broke out Friday, they called in dozens of reinforcements, who rushed up the ramp to the compound bearing clubs and shields.
Palestinians protest barrier
Elsewhere Friday, 2,000 Palestinians marched to protest the barrier Israel is constructing in the West Bank. Witnesses said Israeli soldiers fired rubber-coated steel pellets and tear gas after some demonstrators began pelting them with rocks during the march near the village of Boudrous.
No injuries were reported in the clash.
Palestinians have been holding mass demonstrations against the barrier since Monday, when the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands, began hearings on its legality. The hearings ended Wednesday and the court is expected to hand down a nonbinding opinion in the coming months.
On Thursday, Israeli security forces killed two Palestinians demonstrators among crowds trying to block bulldozers and construction crews.
Israel says the barrier — which could stretch more than 400 miles when completed — is needed to keep suicide bombers and other Palestinian attackers out of its towns and cities.
Palestinians say the structure — about one-quarter of which has been built — is a land grab meant to prevent them from establishing an independent state.
In some areas, the barrier of concrete walls, razor wire and trenches isolates Palestinian towns and villages and separates farmers from their fields.
Meanwhile, the Fatah Revolutionary Council met Friday for a third day in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The council is the second-highest body of Yasser Arafat’s party.
Arafat in altercation
During a heated discussion of security reforms late Thursday, the Palestinian leader got into a heated, violent argument with longtime Fatah official Nasser Yousef, a member of the council who attended the meeting said on condition of anonymity.
Arafat was angered when Yousef questioned the unification and efficiency of Palestinian security forces, the official said. Arafat has clashed several times in the past with Yousef, who has repeatedly called for reforming the security forces.
“You traitor! Spy! Shut your mouth! You have no right to talk!” Arafat was quoted as shouting to Yousef before hurling a microphone at him.
Yousef threw a pen at the veteran Palestinian leader before other members of the Revolutionary Council intervened and calmed down the two septuagenarians, the official said.
This is the first meeting of the 126-member council, which is supposed to meet every three months, since violence erupted in September 2000.
In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians fired an anti-tank missile at a house in the Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim, an Israeli military spokesman said. The house was heavily damaged, but residents — who were at the house — were not injured, the spokesman said.