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Al Jazeera English

Clashes Break Out in East Jerusalem


A Palestinian schoolgirl runs past Israeli troops, background, during clashes with Palestinians protestors in east Jerusalem, Tuesday, March 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police in two areas of occupied east Jerusalem after the Hamas movement called for a "day of rage" over the reopening of a synagogue in the Old City.

Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli police who responded with stun grenades in the Shu-afat and Essawiyya neighbourhoods early on Tuesday.

At least 15 Palestinians were arrested by Israeli police.

About 3,000 police officers had been deployed in east Jerusalem and nearby villages after Hamas called for action in response to the reopening of the Hurva synagogue.

Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesperson, told Al Jazeera: "Throughout the morning we have been dealing with local disturbances. A group of 50 to 60 Palestinians who are causing riots.

"The rest of Jerusalem itself is absolutely quiet. The Temple Mount is closed to visitors and tourists.

"Our units are responding to small incidents in and around East Jerusalem."

Adnan al-Hesseini, the governor of East Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera from al-Aqsa mosque that only a few people had been able to attend prayers because of restrictions placed on movement by Israeli authorities.

"Also many police are on the entrance of the Old City and mosque and inside the street of the Old City. So the movement is very difficult and very tense.

"People are trying to come to the mosque, the shops, their houses. And unfortunately the Israeli police are stopping them."

'Extremely tense'

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, in Essawiyya, said: "Palestinian protesters have been hurling stones at the border guards and they have responded using stun grenades. It is an extremely tense standoff.

"Police want to patrol the situation using as little force as possible, they told us, but they are wearing full riot gear.

"From our vantage point we can only see about 20 Palestinian protesters, hurling stones, which they have been doing throughout the night and into the morning.

"It seems a few amount of protesters against a large amount of border guards."

The synagogue, considered by some people to to be one of Judaism's most sacred sites, reopened for the first time in 62 years a day earlier in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.

Khaled Meshaal, Hamas' political chief who is exiled in Syria, warned against the reopening on Monday.

"We warn against this action by the Zionist enemy to rebuild and dedicate the Hurva synagogue. It signifies the destruction of the al-Aqsa mosque and the building of the temple," he said at a meeting of Palestinian groups' leaders.

He urged Palestinians in Jerusalem to "take serious measures to protect al-Aqsa mosque from destruction and Judaisation".

Meshaal also said that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank need to "launch a campaign to protect Jerusalem and Islamic and Christian holy sites there".

Holy sites

The walled Old City is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which makes the reopening of the synagogue controversial.

Israeli officials have also limited access to al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site, for the fifth consecutive day for security reasons.

Palestinian men under the age of 50 have not been allowed to enter the mosque.

Al-Aqsa, Islam's third holiest site, and the Hurva synagogue are about 700 metres apart.

The synagogue, first built in 1694, was first destroyed in 1721 and then demolished during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The al-Aqsa site is revered by Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), comprising al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. It is known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

An Israeli government decision to include two occupied West Bank religious sites in a Jewish national heritage plan has already angered Palestinians and raised tensions in recent weeks.

The announcement last week of Israeli plans for new settler homes near occupied East Jerusalem has also contributed to the unrest.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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