Sunday, April 20, 2014

Israeli forces arrest 16 Palestinians after clashes in Jerusalem, Nablus

A Palestinian young girl shouts holding a placard as Muslim worshipers wait to have their documents and belongings checked by Israeli security forces at the entrance of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old city, on April 20, 2014. (Photo: AFP - Ahmad Gharabli)

Israeli police arrested 16 Palestinians on Sunday as they clashed with demonstrators at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, as Israeli forces confronted Palestinians in the West Bank.

"This morning, after the site was opened for visitors and tourists, the suspects threw rocks at the police, wounding two of them," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

After police dispersed the crowd with sound grenades the demonstrators took shelter in the Al-Aqsa mosque, which police are not allowed to enter, Rosenfeld claimed.

A police statement later said 16 "Arab rioters" had been arrested.

The mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City - the third holiest site in Islam and where Jews believe to their first and second temple once stood - has over the past week seen clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters.

Dozens of Palestinians were wounded Wednesday in clashes with police after Jewish visitors were allowed onto the compound, which is known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Palestinians have long feared that Israel would take over the site, which is under Jordanian custodianship, amid calls from Jewish extremists for the temple to be rebuilt.

Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site but Jews are barred from praying there. Hardline Jews frequently try to defy the ban, often igniting clashes between Palestinians and police.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians near Joseph's Tomb east of Nablus on Sunday morning, locals and Palestinian security sources told Ma'an news agency.

The clashes broke after hundreds of Israelis arrived at Joseph's Tomb around midnight and performed religious rituals at the site until early morning hours, escorted by dozens of Israeli military vehicles. 

Palestinian security sources told Ma’an that more than 30 Israeli military vehicles stormed Nablus before midnight and were deployed around Joseph's Tomb near Balata refugee camp east of the city. 

Witnesses said Israeli troops fired tear gas canisters and stun grenades at young Palestinian men, who pelted military vehicles with stones and empty bottles. 

No injuries or detentions were reported. 

Many Palestinians believe that Joseph's Tomb is the funerary monument to Sheikh Youssef Dweikat, a local religious figure. Jews believe that the tomb belongs to the Biblical patriarch Joseph. The area is sacred to Jews, Samaritans, Christians and Muslims alike.

Despite lying in an area under Palestinian authority in the West Bank, Israeli forces maintain control at the site and prohibit Muslims from praying there.

Sunday's clashes came as tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists flocked to Jerusalem for the Christian Easter holiday and the week-long Jewish Passover.

Fearing unrest, Israeli police tightened restrictions on access to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, limiting entrance to Muslim men over the age of 50 and women.

On Saturday UN Middle East peace envoy Robert Serry said he and other diplomats had joined an Easter procession at the invitation of Jerusalem's Palestinian Christian community but were stopped at a security checkpoint.

He said Israeli police refused to allow the group to proceed despite earlier assurances of unhindered access, leading to a "precarious standoff" in which an angry crowd pushed their way through.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor defended the police, calling Serry's statement "an odd communique on a non-event" and "a display of poor judgement."


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