- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2007

QALANDIA CHECKPOINT, West Bank (AP) — Thousands of Palestinians thronged military checkpoints on the outskirts of Jerusalem yesterday, trying to reach a major Muslim shrine in the city for Ramadan prayers despite an Israeli army closure.

Israeli troops in jeeps, on foot and horseback were deployed at crossings from the West Bank into Jerusalem to control the crowds trying to get to the Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan draws to a close next week.

At the Qalandia checkpoint north of Jerusalem, harried troops waved clubs, shouted and occasionally used stun grenades as tempers flared and frustrated Palestinians surged toward the roadblock. One elderly man fainted and was treated by an army medic. No serious injuries were reported.

Friday prayers at Al Aqsa regularly draw thousands of worshippers, and crowds are bigger than usual during Ramadan. Around 135,000 filled the mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City yesterday, and prayers ended with no disturbances, police said.

Israel clamped a closure on the West Bank last week, barring Palestinians from entering Israel, citing concern of possible attacks during the seven-day Jewish festival of Sukkot. The festival ended Thursday, but the closure was slated to end tonight, the military said.

Despite the closure, Israeli police had orders to let in West Bank men older than 50 and women older than 40, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. More than 3,000 Israeli police were stationed around Jerusalem’s Old City to keep order during the prayers, he said.

At Qalandia, north of Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians, most of them elderly, pushed toward troops controlling access to the passage and argued with police checking ID cards.

In Iran, meanwhile, millions attended nationwide rallies yesterday in support of the Palestinians and to protest Israel’s continued hold on Jerusalem.

The demonstrations for “Al-Quds Day” — Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem — also spilled over into anti-American protests because of U.S. support for Israel.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel’s continued existence was an “insult to human dignity.”

In Afghanistan, hundreds of Kabul University students marched in a Jerusalem Day demonstration, burning effigies of President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

A possible division of Jerusalem, a city claimed by Israelis and Palestinians as a capital, is one of the key issues in a future peace agreement.

Ahead of a U.S.-hosted Middle East conference in Annapolis next month, Israeli and Palestinian drafting teams are to write a joint document with principles guiding future negotiations.

The document would address the so-called core issues, including the fate of Jerusalem, but not provide a detailed solution, Palestinian negotiators have said.


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