by Abe Selig
While most of the capital enjoyed a quiet Yom Kippur, disturbances flared up across east Jerusalem beginning on Sunday morning, when 18 policemen and 15 rioters were hurt during riots on the Temple Mount, and later in the Old City.
Police said some 150 Muslim worshipers participated in the disturbance on the Temple Mount, which began when a group of Jewish visitors entered the compound with a police escort.
Rioters hurled rocks at the visitors and policemen, lightly wounding two officers, and police responded with stun grenades while the Jews were escorted away.
The riots died down, but the Temple Mount was subsequently closed off to visitors. Yom Kippur prayers at the Western Wall later in the day were not affected.
Rabah Bkirat, an official with the Wakf, the Islamic religious body that manages the Temple Mount, said some of the protesters had come because of rumors of an "invasion" by Jewish "settlers."
When a group of some 15 Jews entered the grounds accompanied by police, the protesters began chanting slogans and only threw stones after police used force, he said.
Palestinian officials also commented on the incident, warning Israel not to "escalate tensions" in Jerusalem while the US administration is trying to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.
"At a time when [US] President [Barack] Obama is trying to bridge the divide between Palestinians and Israelis, and to get negotiations back on track, Israel is deliberately escalating tensions in Jerusalem," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Sunday, in response to the Temple Mount violence.
"We've seen this before, and we know what the consequences are," Erekat added in a statement that conjured up memories of then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in 2000, which some claim sparked the second intifada.
After the unrest on the Temple Mount subsided, however, riots began on the streets of the Old City, as dozens of Arab youth pelted police officers with stones. Additional policemen and rioters were wounded in those scuffles and several rioters were arrested by police.
In the wake of the unrest, Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen arrived at the Temple Mount and evaluated the situation with senior commanders. Police raised the alert status across the country for fear of further violence.
Police also set up roadblocks to prevent vehicles from passing from east Jerusalem to the western part of the city in order to minimize friction between Jewish and Arabs residents.
Hamas called on Palestinians and all Arabs to take to the streets to protest the events. On Sunday night, police reported that some 20 firebombs, along with rocks and other debris, were hurled at police and Border Police officers in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiya.
Dozens of Arab youths took part in the riot, in which five Border Police officers were wounded, one of whom was taken for medical treatment at an area hospital. Two Border Police jeeps were also damaged, a Border Police spokesman said.
Several Arab vehicles driving along Jerusalem's Derech Hebron during Yom Kippur were stoned by Jews. One man, who was lightly wounded in the attack, was taken to the hospital, and several cars were damaged. Police arrested five suspects.
On Monday evening, Arab residents of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan hurled two firebombs at the homes of Jewish residents there. No injuries or damage were reported.