Israeli Police, Arabs Clash on Temple Mount

Times Staff Writer

Israeli security forces Friday turned back thousands of Palestinians trying to reach Muslim holy places here, then used clubs and rubber bullets after coming under attack in an anti-government demonstration on the biblical Temple Mount.

Israel Radio reported that 10 Palestinians and three policemen were hurt during the clash, in which demonstrators and riot police hurled shoes at each other just outside the Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third-holiest shrine. Muslim worshipers traditionally remove their shoes before entering the mosque.

It was the second clash in less than 24 hours on the extraordinarily sensitive 35-acre site, said to have been the location of the first and second Jewish temples before becoming home in the 7th Century to Al Aqsa and the equally revered Dome of the Rock mosque.

7 Protesters Injured

At least seven demonstrators also were hurt by police clubs and rubber bullets, and 38 were arrested Thursday night following services to mark Lailat al Kader, a feast commemorating the revelation of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, to the prophet Mohammed.

Israel Radio said 20 more Arabs were arrested Friday, after several hundred demonstrators burned Israeli flags and hurled stones at a police station on the Temple Mount following midday mosque services. More than 100 police charged the protesters a few minutes later, driving them back toward Al Aqsa, where they sought refuge.

Friday was the last Sabbath during the monthlong Muslim fast of Ramadan and normally would have been a high point of the annual observance. Last year an estimated 100,000 Palestinians jammed the Temple Mount, which they call Haram al-Sharif, or "Noble Sanctuary," for the same service.

This year, however, no more than about 10,000 worshipers were able to reach the area because of army and police roadblocks meant to head off the possibility of large-scale anti-government protests.

The authorities are on edge because of an unprecedented Palestinian uprising that has rocked the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip for more than five months. At least 178 Palestinians have died in the unrest, mostly from army gunfire.

The latest victim was shot while trying to escape army arrest in the West Bank village of Qabatiya late Thursday, the military announced. The day before, another villager died in the hospital from wounds sustained in a clash with the army on March 30.

One soldier and an Israeli girl also have been killed in incidents related to the unrest.

A Palestinian journalist who drove the route between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Friday morning reported three roadblocks in less than 10 miles. All cars with telltale blue, green or silver license plates identifying their owners as Palestinian residents of the occupied territories were turned back. The only exceptions were those who had special army permits, the journalist said.

3 Cities Closed

The army declared the major West Bank cities of Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem to be closed military areas Friday, preventing journalists and other non-residents from entering. It imposed a curfew on Nablus, confining residents to their homes. The military also sealed the Gaza Strip, prohibiting its 650,000 Arab occupants from leaving the area and barring outsiders from entering.

More than 3,000 police were stationed in and around Jerusalem, the largest force ever deployed in the capital, according to Israel Radio. Police Commissioner David Kraus said the massive show of force was meant as "signal to Arab residents that unrest will not be tolerated."

Israeli officials have said they believe the situation here may finally be "stabilizing" after almost continuous, widespread unrest dating from Dec. 9. However, 11 Palestinians have been killed so far this month, and security sources note that there have been brief lulls in the unrest before. They see the end of Ramadan early next week to be a key test.

280 Prisoners Freed

In what was described as "a gesture of good will," the army released 280 Palestinian prisoners Friday in advance of next week's Muslim celebrations marking the end of the fast.

Just one day earlier, Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin revealed that there were 5,400 Palestinians still imprisoned in connection with the unrest, in addition to 4,000 more previously convicted of security offenses. Based on those figures, Friday's gesture involved about 3% of the total Palestinian prison population.

About 3,000 more Palestinians arrested in connection with the uprising already had been released, according to the official count.

There are about 1.5 million Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A new report by a West Bank human rights group affiliated with the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, meanwhile, challenged the official figures and denounced Israeli treatment of prisoners as falling well short of minimum standards agreed to by the United Nations, of which Israel is a member.

The group called Al-Haq (Law in the Service of Man) estimated that more than 17,000 Palestinians have been detained during the current uprising, including more than 2,000 who have been sentenced without charge or trial to renewable six-month prison terms.

The army has acknowledged that at least 1,700 persons are held under so-called "administrative detention" orders.

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