Middle East

Palestinians, Israelis clash near Al-Aqsa

Israeli forces enter Al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied Jerusalem’s Old City.

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Clashes broke out between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank and at a holy site in occupied Jerusalem Friday as tensions rose just weeks before a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Trouble broke out after the funeral in the West Bank of a Palestinian who died of wounds Thursday after being shot by Israeli soldiers during a confrontation two weeks ago.

More than 5,000 people attended the ceremony but afterward a group of about 100 mourners threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, a military spokeswoman said.

In Jerusalem’s Old City, Israeli police fired stun grenades at Palestinian worshippers who threw rocks and firebombs at them after Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Dozens of officers in riot gear entered the politically sensitive area, one of Islam’s holiest sites, to break up a crowd of several hundred protesters.

Palestinian medical workers said about 35 protesters were injured at the plaza, none seriously. A number of policemen were slightly hurt, a police spokesman said.

Tension is rising before a visit by Obama to occupied Jerusalem and Ramallah toward the end of the month and the possible resumption of peace talks that broke down in 2010.

A surge in violence in the occupied West Bank over the past several weeks has raised concern in Israel that a new Palestinian uprising could erupt.

The recent violence has focused around the plight of Palestinians held in Israeli jails but it largely subsided last week after Israel agreed to release two hunger-striking inmates in May and they ended their protest.

A Palestinian official said two people have died as a result of the clashes in the past few weeks.

At the West Bank funeral, Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Issa Qaraqea told mourners that Israel’s actions would lead to more protests.

“Instead of releasing prisoners Israel is committing more crimes, the blood of martyr Mohammad will escalate resistance,” Qaraqea said.

Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital – territories Israel occupied in the 1967 war and which it still controls.

Peace talks broke down over Palestinian objections to Israel expanding settlements in the occupied land territories. Most of the world considers the settlements illegal.

Israel has called for a resumption of the talks without preconditions.

Predicting that Obama’s visit would fail to secure any desired results for the Palestinians, Gaza’s Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called on his West Bank rival, President Mahmoud Abbas, who leads the Fatah movement, to choose reconciliation over talks with Israel.

“As Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims we must not hold hopes on such visit and we must not sell our people illusions,” he told worshippers at Friday prayers in Gaza.

“I urge [Abbas] not to fall in the trap of illusion and not to close the door to Palestinian reconciliation,” he said.

“We are convinced that Obama’s visit will not produce the necessary breakthrough for our people,” Haniyeh said.

Obama’s visit “will focus on regional developments and will only address our cause in a way to undermine Palestinian national reconciliation efforts and to relaunch the absurd so-called negotiations” with Israel, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 09, 2013, on page 12.




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