Riots rock Jerusalem

March 17, 2010 12:00 am

, JERUSALEM, Mar 17 – Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces across east Jerusalem on Tuesday in the worst rioting in years, as a senior Hamas leader called for a new "intifada," or uprising.

As the unrest rocked Jerusalem, US Middle East envoy George Mitchell delayed a visit to the region amid the most severe diplomatic row in decades between Israel and the United States, which has been struggling to revive peace talks.

Police fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at protesters who hurled stones and set up barricades with dumpsters and burning tyres in several neighbourhoods.

In at least one neighbourhood undercover Israeli police officers disguised as protestors wrestled demonstrators to the ground and handcuffed them.

Sixteen Palestinians were taken to hospital, with fractured bones, eye and stomach injuries, and dozens more were treated on the spot, according to the emergency services of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.

One policeman was shot and wounded in the hand when an unknown gunman opened fire with a pistol at a group of officers patrolling an Arab neighbourhood of east Jerusalem, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

The gunman managed to escape.

Four other policeman were briefly taken to hospital and another 10 treated on the spot after being hit by rocks, while 60 Palestinians were arrested, Rosenfeld said.

The clashes erupted across east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognised by the international community.

As the rioting was under way Hamas deputy politburo chief Mussa Abu Marzuk called for another popular Palestinian uprising.

"The intifada must enjoy the participation of all of Palestinian society," he told Al-Jazeera television. "Every Palestinian should rise up… against the forces of the (Israeli) occupation."

In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip thousands of people took to the streets, chanting: "With our blood, with our souls, we sacrifice for you, Jerusalem."

The Palestinians have launched two intifadas against Israeli rule in the occupied territories, the first in 1987 and the second in 2000, but Hamas\’s calls for a new uprising in recent years have been largely ignored.

Anger was already high among Palestinians over Israel\’s announcement of plans to build 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in east Jerusalem.

The announcement last week also incensed the US administration, and Mitchell postponed a visit to the region that was to start on Tuesday.

However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States remained committed to reviving peace talks, telling reporters in Washington there was "too much at stake" for Palestinians and Israelis to abandon them.

"Our goal now is to make sure that we have the full commitment from both our Israeli and the Palestinian partners to this effort," she said.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for restraint from both sides and reiterated that Jerusalem\’s final status should be decided by negotiations.

Earlier this month, the Palestinians reluctantly agreed to hold indirect talks with Israel after a 14-month hiatus in negotiations, but the outlook for a swift resumption of the peace process now looks bleak.

The reopening of a twice-destroyed Hurva synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem\’s walled Old City on Monday further fuelled tensions.

Many Palestinians view Israeli projects near the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound — Islam\’s third holiest site — as an assault on its tense status quo or a prelude to the building of a third Jewish temple there.

Jews refer to the compound as the Temple Mount and consider it their holiest site because the second Temple stood there before the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD.

Rival Palestinian factions united in condemning the high-security opening of the landmark synagogue, which was last destroyed 62 years ago in fighting with Jordan during the 1948 war that followed Israel\’s creation.

"This is no mere synagogue," said Hatem Abdel Qader, the official in charge of Jerusalem affairs for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas\’s Fatah movement.

"This synagogue will be a prelude to violence and religious fanaticism and extremism, and this is not limited to Jewish extremists but includes members of the Israeli government," he added.

The US State Department took strong exception to the Palestinian statements, saying "such incitement" would heighten tensions.

Israeli police had restricted access to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound since Friday and the army had sealed off the West Bank, fearing unrest.


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