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Protests persist over Israeli dig

From the Associated Press

Sporadic Palestinian protests, including a rock-throwing attack on a busload of Canadian tourists, broke out in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Saturday over Israel’s construction of a ramp leading to a holy site.

The demonstrations came the day after Israeli police raided the Al Aqsa mosque compound, firing tear gas and stun grenades at rioters. Protests have spread throughout the world as Muslim leaders accused Israel of trying to damage the Islamic shrines.

Israel says the repair work, halted Saturday, won’t come anywhere near the site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

In Jerusalem, a few dozen Palestinian teenagers threw stones at Israeli security forces at the walled Old City, at one point burning an Israeli flag. At the Mount of Olives holy site, Palestinians pelted a Canadian tour bus, but no one was injured.

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“We were just driving and all of a sudden a bunch of kids started picking up rocks and whatever they could get their hands on and started throwing it at the bus,” tourist Dave Wood said. “This is our first day in the Holy City and it was quite disturbing.”

Israeli police said they arrested 17 protesters in Jerusalem.

In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, dozens of Palestinian youths threw rocks at Israeli soldiers guarding a checkpoint into Jerusalem. The soldiers detained 30 protesters, the army said.

In a similar protest in the West Bank city of Hebron, police responded with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. No injuries were reported in either demonstration.

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In anticipation of further protests in Jerusalem today when the work resumes, police will maintain a beefed-up force and restrictions at the mosque compound, barring all Muslim men younger than 45 from praying there, an official said.

On Friday, about 200 riot police streamed onto the compound shooting stun grenades and tear gas when some of the 3,000 worshipers there threw rocks at them. The compound -- a catalyst for earlier rounds of Israeli-Palestinian fighting -- is home to the third-holiest site in Islam and is believed to be the site where the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Jews venerate it as the site of their biblical temples, and one of its outer walls -- known as the Western Wall -- is the holiest site in Judaism.

The Israelis say the purpose of the construction project is to build a new walkway leading to the mount to replace a ramp that was damaged in a 2004 snowstorm. But the Palestinians say the excavations are attempts to damage their shrines.

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Israeli officials reject that accusation and say they are not digging under the compound because the work is about 200 feet away from the mount.

The Arab League chief said Saturday that the dig reflected “Israeli attempts” to tighten control over Jerusalem and urged the international community to intercede.

“There are plans to change the features of the city,” Amr Moussa said in a statement distributed to the Arab representatives at an emergency meeting in Cairo.

The statement said the construction was “threatening the security and stability in the region.”

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Jordan and Egypt -- Israel’s sole Arab peace partners and key U.S. allies in the region -- have demanded the Jewish state stop the work, as did Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Malaysia, which chairs the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, urged the international intervention.


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