Worshipers, Riot Police Clash on Moslem Sabbath
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Riot police stormed the sacred Temple Mount complex Friday and fired rubber bullets at protesting Moslems on the final Sabbath of the holy month of Ramadan. Twenty Arabs and three policemen were reported injured.
Soldiers closed off large parts of the occupied territories, and the turnout for Moslem prayer services was drastically reduced. The army, fearing violence, sealed off the Gaza Strip and turned back West Bank Arabs at roadblocks into Jerusalem.
As an army helicopter buzzed overhead and police snipers perched on rooftops, about 1,000 worshipers emerged from prayers and marched around the mosques on the city’s Temple Mount, or Haram Al Sharif (Noble Enclosure) in Arabic.
″Jews out 3/8″ the marchers chanted. ″We don’t want to see any Zionists 3/8″ Others cried: ″No fear 3/8 No fear 3/8 The stone is better than the Kalashnikov (rifle) 3/8″
The marchers burned Israeli flags and raised the outlawed red, green, black and white Palestinian flag. Israel radio said a U.S. flag was set afire.
A few hundred youths threw stones at the police station that faces the Al Aqsa mosque, which is at the Temple Mount. Seconds later, about 100 police wearing riot helmets and carrying clubs and assault rifles charged the complex, firing rubber bullets into the crowd.
Some witnesses said they heard brief bursts of automatic gunfire, apparently fired in the air.
Police spokesman Rafi Levy said three policeman were slightly injured by stones during the melee. Doctors at Jerusalem’s Mukassed and Augusta Victoria hospitals said they treated 20 Arabs for rubber bullet injuries.
Ten injured worshipers were across the mosque complex on stretchers. One of them, an elderly man, had blood streaming down his face. He shouted ″Allahu Akhbar 3/8″ (″God is Great 3/8″) and flashed a victory sign.
Four or five women, their heads covered in white religious scarves, also were carried out on stretchers.
Some witnesses said they saw Arabs throw shoes at police from large piles at the mosque entrance. The wearing of shoes is forbidden in mosques.
As police and demonstrators clashed, many worshipers remained inside the Al Aqsa mosque, afraid to leave. The Moslem prayer leader appealed to police through loudspeakers to withdraw.
″Go away 3/8″ prayer leader Mohammed Hussein called out. ″Allow the Moslems to leave peacefully.″
The prayer services took place amid strict security precautions that prevented thousands of worshipers from reaching Jerusalem as Ramadan came to a close. Ramadan, a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, is due to end Monday or Tuesday with the sighting of the new moon.
Last year, an estimated 200,000 worshipers came to the city from the West Bank, Gaza and Arab towns in Israel, said Hashem Ashayer, head of Jerusalem’s Islamic Council. Estimates of Friday’s crowd ranged from 5,000 to 10,000.
The army, meanwhile, said 300 Palestinians were being released from West Bank prisons Friday in a holiday gesture. A spokesman said the prisoners were chosen from areas that had been calm recently.
But the government imposed restrictions on Palestinians starting Thursday night to thwart possible violence on the ″Night of Fate,″ marking the revelation of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, to the prophet Mohammed.
Police Commissioner David Kraus said 3,300 policemen were deployed in Jerusalem to maintain order.
The army also clamped curfews Friday morning on 120,000 Palestinians in Nablus, the largest West Bank city, and neighboring refugee camps.
Curfews were clamped on parts of Gaza City and the Dheishe refugee camp near Bethlehem.
The army later lifted the curfew in Gaza City, but the entire coastal strip, home to 650,000 Palestinians, remained sealed off. The West Bank city of Ramallah, home to 40,000, also was declared a closed military area.
Arab reporters in Gaza City said the army prevented worshipers from entering the El Salam mosque there Friday and that troops were stationed around most of the mosques in the Gaza Strip.
Along the 10-mile stretch of road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, police and soldiers set up three roadblocks and were seen turning back cars with blue West Bank license plates.
Authorities have expressed concern about violence over the weekend and during the Id El Fitr holiday, which follows Ramadan.
Officials also said trouble may erupt Sunday, the 40th anniversary of the founding of Israel. It is also Jerusalem Day, the anniverary of the capture of Arab east Jerusalem in 1967.
A total of 187 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the Arab uprising Dec. 8. An Israeli soldier and a teen-age girl have also died.