by Liel Kyzer and Jack Khoury
Four policemen were lightly wounded by Arab stone-throwers yesterday during riots that began on the Temple Mount but soon spread to the alleyways of Jerusalem's Old City. Eight rioters were arrested.
The clashes died down later in the day, apparently helped by the stormy weather.
Senior police officers attributed the riots to the government's recent decision to declare Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb near Bethlehem national heritage sites. That decision has sparked days of rioting in Hebron, and yesterday it spread to Jerusalem, police said.
But Arab residents of East Jerusalem said the riots broke out because the police allowed a larger than usual number of Jewish visitors to ascend the Temple Mount yesterday.
The trouble began on the Temple Mount Saturday night, when some 30 Arab men entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque and refused to leave. The police contacted officials of the Muslim Waqf (religious trust), which runs the site, and asked them to persuade the young men to leave, but the men refused.
Fearing that this was the prelude to a riot, police decided to try to prevent an outbreak of violence by closing the site yesterday to all Muslim men except those aged 50 or older and who were either Israeli citizens or permanent residents (no restrictions were imposed on women). However, Jews and other non-Muslim visitors were permitted to enter as usual.
At about 8 A.M. yesterday, when the first visitors ascended the mount, the masked men who had barricaded themselves in the mosque on Saturday night began stoning them.
Police rushed into the compound to try to stop the stone-throwing, but the rioters fled to the mosque and barricaded themselves in again.
At that point, police closed the mount to visitors, but the young men continued periodically stoning the police forces stationed there.
Standing on rooftops
There were also incidents of stone-throwing at several other places in the Old City. At 9 A.M., for instance, Arabs stoned a police force near the Antonia Gate, which is one of the entrances to the Temple Mount.
At about the same time, several dozen Arabs tried to conduct a protest march down the Old City's Sultan Suleiman Street, but were dispersed by the police.
Arabs standing on rooftops near Lions Gate, one of the entrances to the Old City, threw stones at nearby policemen for about three hours. There were also stone-throwing incidents in East Jerusalem's Ras al-Amud neighborhood.
Two policemen and two border policemen were lightly wounded by the stone-throwers. They were treated on the spot and immediately returned to work.
Police had feared that further rioting would erupt following noon prayers at Al-Aqsa. But in fact, the Muslim worshipers dispersed peacefully, and the rest of the afternoon passed quietly.
One policeman at the site attributed this to the heavy rain, which he said persuaded the rioters to go back home.
The young men who had barricaded themselves in the mosque apparently left with the other worshipers following the noontime prayers.
In response to yesterday's events, several Arab Knesset members asked the international community and the Arab League to intervene against what they termed "Israeli aggression in Jerusalem in general and in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in particular."
Hadash chairman MK Mohammed Barakeh charged that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government "interpret the [international] silence as a green light to continue their policy of occupation and of harming sites holy to Islam and Christianity."