- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 6, 2009

JERUSALEM | Police flooded into Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday after clashes with Palestinians near the Al Aqsa mosque compound, while tens of thousands of Jews attended a religious ceremony.

As tension mounted in the holy city, one soldier was stabbed in the neck at a checkpoint in the Shuafat refugee camp a few miles from where dozens of Palestinians hurled rocks at security forces.

Rock-throwing also was reported at the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, and in the Ras el-Amud neighborhood, just outside the Old City, where 10 Palestinians were arrested on charges of throwing stones at security forces.

Authorities restricted access to the mosque compound to Muslim men age 50 and older, with no restrictions for women, after Sunday’s clashes in which seven Palestinian protesters were injured and three were arrested.

Thousands of officers deployed in and around the area, focusing on the Al Aqsa mosque compound, which is holy to Muslims and Jews, and the Western Wall, the main Jewish pilgrimage site also known as the Wailing Wall.

Two Arab neighborhoods adjoining the Old City were sealed off as helicopters and a surveillance drone flew overhead.

“These measures were taken to avert new incidents on the compound and the Old City and to prevent stones from being thrown at the Jewish faithful who come to pray at the Western Wall,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Tension flared Sunday after police closed access to the Al Aqsa compound - known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Clashes broke out after more than 150 people gathered to pray outside the compound. After the prayers, worshippers threw stones and security forces responded with stun grenades and a water cannon.

Rumors earlier swept through the Old City that Israeli authorities would allow right-wing Jewish settlers to enter the compound during the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot.

Before police closed it, religious leaders had called on Muslims to gather at the compound, in what police called an incitement to violence.

On Monday, an estimated 30,000 Jewish worshippers prayed at the Western Wall below Al Aqsa for the Priestly Blessing ceremony, a highlight of the Sukkot celebrations.

Sheik Azam al-Khatib, who heads the Islamic trust that manages the compound, said the tension was caused by “Jewish extremists who provoke the Muslim faithful and don’t hide their ambition to kick the Muslims out to build a temple.”

In Gaza, thousands of people joined a protest organized by the Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers, calling for a popular uprising, or intifada, to defend the mosque compound.

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