- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

JERUSALEM | Tensions ran high after clashes erupted in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a site revered by Muslims and Jews that has been a major fault line in the Middle East conflict.

Palestinian youths hurled rocks at Israeli police, who were deployed throughout the winding narrow streets of the Old City, and police retaliated with stun grenades, witnesses said.

Police said 17 security force members were wounded in the clashes and that 11 people were arrested. Witnesses reported seeing about a dozen wounded Palestinians.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said violence erupted because Israelis provided escorts for militant Jewish settlers to visit the site.

“Providing a police escort for settlers who are against peace at all costs, and whose presence is deliberately designed to provoke a reaction, are not the actions of someone who is committed to peace,” he said.

By early afternoon, a tense calm reigned in the historic city, with dozens of police officers patrolling the narrow streets and barricades erected at some of the main gates along the city’s 400-year-old walls.

“There is a large police presence in the Old City … . In general, things are quiet,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Police and witnesses said the unrest erupted after a group of tourists entered the mosque compound, known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif (“the Noble Sanctuary”) and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Initially, the police said the group was made up of Jewish worshippers, but later said they were French tourists.

“The group attacked by stones at the mosque compound was, in fact, a group of non-Jewish French tourists who visited it as part of their trip,” said Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben Ruby.

The visitors were probably mistaken for Jewish worshippers because a group of 200 mostly religious and right-wing Jews had gathered in the early morning at the gate through which police allow tourists access to the holy site, witnesses said.

“There was a large group of Jewish settlers who gathered outside Al-Aqsa and tried to break in,” said a Palestinian witness who would give his name only as Abu Raed.

Immediately after the clash, police blocked off the compound.

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