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Calm holds in Jerusalem's Old City

reprinted from The Jerusalem Post
Oct. 6, 2009

by Abe Selig

Police on Monday reported no unusual incidents in Jerusalem's Old City, as some 30,000 Jews thronged the Western Wall Plaza for the twice-yearly Priestly Blessing ceremony. However, scattered violence continued to unfold in nearby east Jerusalem neighborhoods and beyond throughout the day.

In the afternoon, a Palestinian teenager aboard a bus stabbed a border policeman in the neck after the officer, stationed at a checkpoint leading into northeast Jerusalem's Shuafat refugee camp, tried to carry out a security check.

A Magen David Adom team evacuated the policeman to the Hadassah-University Hospital in Ein Kerem with the knife still stuck in his neck. The officer was rushed into surgery fully conscious.

While the attacker was arrested, youths from Shuafat began to riot, burning cardboard boxes and throwing stones at border policemen throughout the evening.

Earlier on Monday, a group of Arabs from the southeast Ras al-Amud neighborhood stoned dozens of haredi men who had stopped to pray at the cemetery on the nearby Mount of Olives. Police arrived and dispersed the assailants, but rocks were again thrown at police officers inside Ras al-Amud later in the day. No damage or injuries were reported in either incident.

Violence was also reported on the outskirts of Ramallah, where some 50 Palestinian teenagers hurled rocks and other debris at soldiers stationed nearby. The soldiers responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

A policeman was lightly wounded after Palestinian youths hurled rocks at border policemen near the Shuafat security checkpoint in northern Jerusalem. The policeman was treated at the scene.

Policemen used riot gear to disperse the youths and arrested seven of them for alleged involvement in the rock-hurling and assault of security forces.

The roadblock itself was also hit with stones, but no damage was caused.

Stone-throwing and other forms of rioting continued in east Jerusalem intermittently throughout the day.

Also on Monday, Jerusalem police revealed that their decision to prevent Muslim men under the age of 50 from entering the Temple Mount in recent days had been partly based on the discovery of wheelbarrows filled with rocks throughout the compound on Sunday.

Police said that Palestinians had filled the wheelbarrows with stones in preparation for riots in the Old City, and that this, along with intelligence and the weekend call made by Palestinian leaders to "come and defend" the Aksa Mosque led police to close the compound completely on Sunday morning, before reopening it with the age restrictions later in the day.

Palestinians officials in recent days and weeks have warned that the ongoing tensions regarding access to the Temple Mount compound could ignite a third intifada.

The Palestinian Authority issued a strongly-worded statement on Monday evening, calling on Palestinians "to confront Israel and its plans," and accusing the government of trying to thwart the creation of a Palestinian state.

"We call on the Palestinian public to confront Israel and its plans, which are intended to prevent the Palestinian people from fulfilling their aspirations of establishing a Palestinian state in the occupied territories," read a statement issued in Ramallah by the government of PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.

The PA also decried "Israel's attempts to conduct Jewish prayer services in the Aksa compound" and urged the world "to force Israel to halt is efforts to Judaize the city."

Meanwhile, a massive police force was deployed at the entrance to the Wadi Joz neighborhood, north of the Old City, where a mob of some 150 Muslims had thrown rocks and bottles at security forces on Sunday morning, sparking fears that additional unrest would break out inside the Old City again on Monday.

However, Wadi Joz remained calm throughout the day, as police were seen packing up and preparing to leave just before nightfall.

Jerusalem Police chief Cmdr. Aharon Franco caused a brief stir when, referring to the ongoing violence, he called the capital's Muslim residents "ungrateful."

"There's a certain degree of ungratefulness from the city's Muslim population," Franco said, "after the police worked hard to allow peaceful prayers on the Temple Mount over the month of Ramadan."

Franco's statements provoked outrage from Arab lawmakers, including MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al), who suggested that the police chief "take a course in democracy and the values of equality. Not all Jews are smart," he said.

"We don't need any favors," Tibi continued. "What we need is for you and your friends to uphold your duty to us as citizens and as people. One time a minister uses the word 'Arabush' [a derogatory term for Arabs that Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was caught on tape saying in June], and now this one calls us ungrateful."

Earlier on Monday, Aharonovitch and Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen called on people of all religions to be patient and show restraint, and the public security minister said that strong forces of police were on patrol to the keep the peace.

Police announced in the evening that they would remain on high alert on Tuesday for the annual Jerusalem March, in which organizers said they expected some 70,000 people from across the world to participate.

The march will begin in the morning, with a 12-kilometer route going from Ammunition Hill to Mount Scopus and then passing by many of the east Jerusalem neighborhoods that straddle the Old City before reaching Sacher Park near the Nahlaot neighborhood.

Police said officers would escort the marchers every step of the way and were prepared for all developments.

 

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