Israeli Forces Storm Al Aqsa Mosque : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Israeli Forces Storm Al Aqsa Mosque to Remove Palestinian Flags By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Filed at 12:17 p.m. ET

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli troops shot and killed six Palestinian rioters in a series of intense gunbattles in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday, and police stormed a bitterly contested holy site in Jerusalem to disperse hundreds of young Palestinians and tear down Palestinian flags.

After a day of tension at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, police rushed in on Friday evening in pursuit of the Palestinians, said police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby.

Police and protesters clashed earlier in the day outside the compound, the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Overall, more than 70 people have been killed and about 1,900 injured, most of them Palestinians, in nine days of fighting.

The Palestinian flags raised at the shrine were seen as a direct challenge to Israel's sovereignty claim over the site. The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam, and Jews call it the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops sealed the West Bank and Gaza, barring Palestinians from Israel in an attempt to head off new fighting.

But as Palestinian demonstrations mounted, Israeli forces battled thousands of rock-throwers and smaller bands of gunmen in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in what the Palestinians billed as their ``day of rage.''

Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen exchanged fire in at least a half-dozen flashpoints in the West Bank and Gaza where tens of thousands of protesters marched on Israeli military positions, the army said. Three Palestinians were killed in Gaza, and three more in the West Bank. Dozens also were injured, the Palestinians said.

At the biggest demonstration in the West Bank town of Nablus, some 10,000 protesters marched toward a junction manned by Israeli soldiers. Mixed in with the chanting stonethrowers were gunmen armed with M-16 rifles.

``We asked all the gunmen to keep away from the demonstrators, but when the first boy was killed ... they became angry and they didn't obey our orders,'' said Bassam Naim, a Palestinian leader in Nablus. The two demonstrators killed during the afternoon were being buried at nightfall.

At first, Israeli and Palestinian security forces appeared to be cooperating in trying to reduce friction around the Jerusalem shrine.

After Friday prayers, 8,000 worshippers poured out of the Al Aqsa mosque, some throwing stones, and Palestinian security agents forced them away from Israeli security forces just outside the compound.

For several hours, Israeli police and Palestinians protesters skirmished in the narrow streets of the Old City. The Israelis eventually pulled back and allowed Palestinian security to disperse the crowd, though not before a small police post had been torched. Twenty-four Israeli policemen were injured, the Israelis said.

The cooperation between the security forces at the emotionally charged site was unprecedented. Yair Yitzhaki, the Jerusalem police commander, said the battle in the Old City could have been much worse.

``The concept of being wise rather than being strong proved itself today. If we had gone onto Temple Mount, it would have ended in bloodshed,'' Yitzhaki said.

Palestinians, meanwhile, claimed a major symbolic victory in the ongoing quarrel over the site.

``We have been ruling the mosque and its entrances, and we are trying to prevent the Israelis from entering the mosque another time,'' said Hatem Abdel Kader, a Palestinian legislator.

The decision by the Israeli police to keep away from sensitive areas in Jerusalem was immediately criticized by Israeli politicians, including allies of Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

``What were the people of the Palestinian Authority doing on the Temple Mount?'' said Dan Meridor, a senior Israeli legislator. ``It is not theirs. This is what the political struggle (with the Palestinians) is all about.''

However, by nightfall, Israeli police broke into the compound, tore down Palestinian flags and arrested a number of Palestinians.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have broken down because of a dispute over who will control the shrine. Muslims run the hilltop compound, the third holiest place in Islam, but Jews are allowed to visit the site, where once the biblical Jewish Temple stood, the holiest shrine of Judaism.

The latest round of violence began after right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visited the compound Sept. 28, to demonstrate that Israel is in control.

The Palestinian territories were closed before sunrise Friday and will remain sealed until sundown Monday, the end of Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and atonement and the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Israel often closes the territories during major holidays, but it did so early this time in response to the latest violence.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 06, 2000

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