Israeli police bring reinforcements to Jerusalem due to escalating protests

JERUSALEM – Israeli police mobilized reinforcements from across the country to secure volatile Jerusalem yesterday, deploying thousands of officers on city streets for fear that two days of minor clashes with Palestinian protesters would escalate.

By nightfall, no serious clashes had developed, and an Israeli Muslim leader was arrested on suspicion of helping spark the tension.

Rumors that Jewish extremists planned to march on the most sacred Muslim and Jewish shrine in the Holy Land apparently fueled the unrest in Jerusalem, the city at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

No such march has taken place. But the low-level violence has inflamed political and religious passions, stoked reports in the Israeli and Arab media and laid bare once again just how much of a tinderbox Jerusalem is.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said yesterday the Israeli leader was ‘following the events’ and holding consultations with security officials.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said thousands of police were called in to secure the city yesterday, describing the reinforcements as exceptional. There were brief clashes with stone-throwing youths in an east Jerusalem neighborhood and at a checkpoint outside the city, but no serious injuries were reported.

The weeklong Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which draws many Jewish visitors to Jerusalem, has been the backdrop for the recent unrest. Yesterday, Israel again accused Muslim leaders from the country’s Arab minority of inciting the disturbances.

Israel and the Palestinians both lay claim to Jerusalem, with Israel insisting it will retain control of all of the city, including the eastern sector it captured and annexed in 1967.

The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, with its major Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, for their future capital. Like the rest of the international community, they do not recognize the Israeli annexation and regard the Jewish neighborhoods that ring east Jerusalem as settlements, which Israel does not.

‘Israel is working on a daily basis to Judaize Jerusalem by building settlements, not permitting (Palestinians) to build and by assaults on the Al-Aqsa mosque, like we see today,’ Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Yemen’s state-run TV on Monday.

Jerusalem’s 220,000 Arabs and 550,000 Jews live in an uneasy coexistence that frequently leads to friction and occasionally erupts into outright violence.

Raed Salah, head of a militant branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement, told the Haaretz newspaper on Monday that the clashes would last as long as Israel’s ‘occupation’ of the city and the mosque continued.

‘The mosque compound is Muslim, Palestinian and Arab, and Israel has no rights to the mosque or east Jerusalem,’ Salah said.

Yesterday, Israeli police arrested Salah for incitement, citing a ‘statements in recent days’ that constituted ‘sedition.’ The cleric has been arrested on numerous occasions in the past on similar charges.

Jordan and Egypt, the two Arab states that have signed peace treaties with Israel, both had scathing criticism for Israel. Egypt’s foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said Monday that Arabs and Muslims ‘will never tolerate these Israeli measures in Jerusalem.’

Some Arab media outlets carried reports that later proved to be false of Jewish settlers trying to enter the disputed hilltop complex.

The tense situation also dominated Israeli press, with the front page of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper yesterday showing a masked Palestinian throwing stones under the headline ‘Sukkot riots.’