Jerusalem holy site measures fail to halt clashes

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Palestinians run after stun grenades are fired outside Jerusalem's Old City (28/07/17)Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Stun grenades were fired in confrontations between troops and Palestinians near the holy compound

Israeli forces and Palestinians have clashed in the Occupied Territories after weeks of friction over a Jerusalem holy site.

Violence erupted on the outskirts of Jerusalem's Old City, across the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip after the end of Muslim Friday prayers.

Two Palestinians were reported killed by troops - one an alleged assailant in the West Bank, the other in Gaza.

Tension remains despite the end of a stand-off at the holy site.

Palestinians returned to the hilltop site known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and Jews as the Temple Mount on Thursday after Islamic authorities lifted a two-week boycott called in protest at new Israeli security measures there.

Israel removed all the security apparatus following intense pressure to defuse the crisis after days of deadly clashes.

The measures, including metal detectors, security cameras and other infrastructure, were put in place after two Israeli policemen were shot dead by three Israeli Arabs who Israel said had smuggled their weapons into the site.

Despite the moves, clashes broke out in and around the compound on Thursday night, leaving 136 Palestinians wounded, Palestinian medics said.

There had been fears of further violence as worshippers gathered in East Jerusalem on Friday morning. Israeli police barred Palestinian men under the age of 50 from entering the Old City, site of the holy compound, limiting thousands of Palestinians to pray in the streets outside.

The restriction is sometimes used during periods of tension to try to prevent violent protests inside the compound.

While most of the crowds dispersed peacefully, brief clashes erupted in the Wadi Joz district, close to the Old City.

By evening all restrictions were lifted and Palestinians of all ages were allowed into the mosque compound, Israeli and Palestinian sources said.

Violence also broke out in the West Bank cities of Qalqilya, Nablus, Hebron, Tulkarm, Ramallah and the outskirts of Bethlehem. Troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets as hundreds of protesters threw rocks, local media said. Scores of Palestinians were injured, according to Palestinian medical sources.

The Israeli military said troops shot dead a Palestinian armed with a knife as he ran towards soldiers at the Gush Etzion junction, a roundabout outside a Jewish settlement bloc, about six miles (10km) south of Bethlehem.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Israel removed the last parts of its security set-up on Thursday morning

However, the Palestinian Maan news agency quoted an unnamed eyewitness as saying the man was unarmed when he was shot from 20 metres (65ft) away.

In Gaza, a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops amid clashes near the border with Israel, the health ministry run by the enclave's Hamas rulers said.

Israel has occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East war. The UN also still considers Gaza part of the Occupied Territories because of the control Israel exercises over its airspace, shared borders and coast despite pulling its troops and settlers out in 2005.

Since the crisis escalated following the killing of the two policemen on 14 July, at least five Palestinians have been killed in clashes and three Israeli civilians stabbed to death by a Palestinian.

Differences over the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif go to the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the complex is a flashpoint for violence.

Jews revere it as the location of two Biblical Temples and the holiest place in Judaism. It is also the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven, according to Islamic tradition.

Palestinians said Israel's new security measures upset the delicate status quo, which Israel has repeatedly pledged to maintain since occupying the area in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel said Palestinians were using the issue as a pretext to spread hostility against the Jewish state.