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Israel shuts shrineto foil Jewishprotest march

Thousands of Israeli police sealed off a flashpoint Jerusalem shrine on Sunday to foil a march by ultranationalist Jews that could have inflamed violence and complicated Israel’s plan to withdraw from Gaza.
/ Source: Reuters

Thousands of Israeli police sealed off a flashpoint Jerusalem shrine on Sunday to foil a march by ultranationalist Jews that could have inflamed violence and complicated Israel’s plan to withdraw from Gaza.

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants pounded Jewish settlements with the worst barrage of mortar fire in months, a day after Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinian youths.

The rounds caused no casualties but damaged an Israeli home.

As he headed for a meeting with President Bush at his Texas ranch on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon condemned the mortar rounds as a “flagrant violation” of a two-month-old truce with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Sharon, quoted by a senior aide on the plane to the U.S., said he would take up the issue with Bush in their talks, suggesting he did not plan any immediate retaliation.

The intended Israeli march in Jerusalem was part of a rightist campaign to spark a cycle of violence to foil Sharon’s plan to evacuate Jewish settlers from Gaza in a pullout U.S.-led mediators hope will launch long-stalled “road map” peace talks.

Palestinian militants had threatened to abandon a truce they agreed last month and start another uprising if Jews had rallied at the site revered by Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and Jews as Temple Mount.

The site is the most sacred for Jews, as the spot where biblical King Solomon built a temple and where a second temple was razed by the Romans in 70 A.D. It is Islam’s third holiest site, home to the al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques.

Ultranationalists vow to return
Israeli police blockaded all approaches to the shrine and arrested 31 far-right protesters of the Revava (“Multitude“) movement and eight Palestinian counter-protesters, including the West Bank leader of the militant Hamas movement, Hassan Youssef, who was released some hours later, his son told Reuters.

Palestinian men under 40 were barred from the shrine to minimize friction, but that restriction was later lifted.

A few dozen Jewish protesters tried to push their way in, shouting “Gestapo!” at police and injuring an officer with a thrown rock.

“If Sharon thinks it will be as easy to expel Jews from Gaza as he has dealt with us today, he is mistaken. The struggle will continue,” Jewish protester Eric Cohen, 21, a West Bank settler, said before being hustled away by police.

Sharon: Mortar fire violates cease-fire
Violence flared in the Gaza Strip where Palestinian militants fired more than 70 mortars at Jewish settlements in Gaza, a day after Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinian youths near a border fence.

Hamas supporters carry a model of al-Aqsa mosque during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah
Hamas supporters carry a model of al-Aqsa mosque during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah April 9, 2005. More than 10,000 Palestinians demonstrated on Saturday and warned of a \"third uprising\" if rightist Jews hoping to derail plans for a Gaza withdrawal try to enter a sensitive Jerusalem site on Sunday. Israeli police have increased their presence in Jerusalem and have said they would bar Jewish activists from carrying out plans to enter the site revered by Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and by Jews as the Temple Mount. REUTERS/Loay Abu HaykelLoay Abu Haykel / X01207

“The firing was a flagrant violation of the understanding achieved at Sharm el-Sheikh and it will be a central issue to be raised in my talks with President Bush,” a senior aide quoted Sharon as saying on his trip to the U.S.

Sharm el-Sheikh was the site of a peace summit in Egypt where Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a ceasefire in four years of violence on Feb. 8.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called Abbas to urge him to intervene to assign more security forces to the southern Gaza area to put an end to the shooting, ministry sources said.

“If you don’t act quickly, who knows where this escalation will lead,” Mofaz said. “You aren’t doing the job and Israel cannot accept that.”

Burning blockade
In Tel Aviv, right-wing Israelis blocked a main highway at the height of rush hour with burning tires. Police arrested 30 and said some would be brought before a judge on Monday.

Youssef, Hamas’s West Bank political leader, had slipped past police into the Jerusalem shrine disguised as an elderly cleric, sources close to him said. He was arrested as he left the shrine and later freed to his home in Ramallah.

“I did not wait for a permit from the (Israeli) occupation. All Palestinians should come here to protect al-Aqsa from desecration by Jewish extremists,” Youssef told Reuters by telephone before he was arrested.

Youssef made no comment upon his release.