Protests target Jerusalem holy sites
Sunday, April 10, 2005 Posted: 10:05 PM EDT (0205 GMT)
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Thousands of Israeli police encircled Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday to keep Israeli ultranationalists out of a disputed holy site and prevent protests by jittery Muslim worshippers.
Police said 31 Israelis were detained as their protest against a Gaza withdrawal quickly fizzled.
A senior leader of Hamas in the West Bank was also detained after he entered the shrine.
Despite the small number of Israeli demonstrators, police acknowledged the pullout opponents achieved their main goal -- tying up the security forces. Organizers have said Sunday's event was a trial run for the summer's withdrawal when they want to divert as many troops as possible from dismantling Jewish settlements in Gaza by forcing them to secure other areas, including the Jerusalem shrine.
The tension in Jerusalem came a day after Israeli troops killed three Palestinian teens in Gaza in disputed circumstances.
The friction clouded Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the United States, where he is to meet with President Bush on Monday to win a strong public endorsement for the Gaza pullout. (Full story)
Palestinian militants fired 70 mortar rounds in response to the killing of the teens, but stopped short of walking away from the informal cease-fire. Islamic militant groups have warned they would end the truce if Israeli hardliners are permitted into the Jerusalem shrine, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.
The far-right Revava group had said it would bring thousands to the Old City. However, only a few dozen showed up, and 16 were arrested. Four right-wing legislators were prevented by police from visiting the shrine, though members of parliament usually have freedom of movement.
In anticipation of the protest, hundreds of Palestinians spent the night in the mosque compound.
Yousef, a senior West Bank leader of the violent Islamic group Hamas, entered the mosque compound despite tough police restrictions, including a ban on male worshippers younger than 40 and those from the West Bank. "Al Aqsa is in danger," Yousef said. "The attempts to desecrate Al Aqsa have not ended."
Yousef was detained after he left the shrine and headed back to the West Bank, police said.
Outside the Old City walls, hundreds of young Palestinians scuffled with baton-wielding police, some on horse-back of kept them away from the shrine. Two Palestinians were hurt, one suffering a head injury after being hit by a club. Eventually, the Palestinians knelt in orderly lines on the road ringing to Old City to perform Muslim prayers.
In the West Bank, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to protest against the right-wing plans to enter the mosque compound. In Nablus, some 3,000 Palestinians, including dozens of armed men who fired in the air, marched through the streets. In Hebron, about 1,000 Palestinians marched and chanted.
More than 3,000 police, many in riot gear, secured the Jerusalem shrine, which sits on the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has provided the spark for violence in the past.
Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi said he has to prevent disturbances at the shrine at all costs, even if it means deploying thousands of officers to keep out a few demonstrators. "Israel's police does not have the option of playing games," he said, adding that the Gaza withdrawal would go ahead as planned.
Thousands of police and soldiers will be mobilized for dismantling 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank, starting in July.
Israel has stepped up security in Jerusalem recent days. Security officials say they fear hardliners will attack the hilltop shrine, home to the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques, with the aim of blocking the Gaza pullout. Possible scenarios include the firing of shoulder-launched missiles at the mosque.
Carmi Gilon, former head of the Shin Bet security service, said that in the event of such an attack, Israel would find itself at war with the entire Muslim world. "Of all the means ... of stopping disengagement, no doubt the Temple Mount is the doomsday weapon," he told Israel Radio.
A visit to the site in September 2000 by then-opposition leader Sharon led to rioting that escalated into more than four years of violence. Jews revere the Temple Mount as the site of their biblical temples, while Muslims tradition says the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the spot.
Opponents of a Gaza withdrawal, meanwhile, burned tires and blocked a main Tel Aviv-area highway during rush hour early Sunday, causing a large traffic jam. Israeli media reported 25 people were arrested.
Tensions were already high following Saturday's fatal shooting of three Palestinian youths in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza. It was the deadliest incident in Gaza since Israel and the Palestinians declared a cease-fire on February 8. A total of 13 Palestinians and five Israelis have been killed during that period.
Palestinian residents and officials said the youths were killed while playing soccer near the Egyptian border. Israeli military officials said the youths were involved in smuggling. A commander said the teens were shot on a military patrol road as they ran toward the border. (Full story)
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas condemned the shooting and accused Israel of violating the cease-fire.
Jews held over Jerusalem 'bombs'
There are fears ultra-sensitive sites could be attacked
Israeli police have arrested two Jews suspected of planting fake bombs in Jerusalem to try to disrupt plans to pull settlers out of the Gaza Strip.
The pair were caught after leaving a backpack rigged with wires, police said.
The arrests come amid heightened fears that right-wing activists will step up attempts to sabotage the withdrawal.
A Jewish group meanwhile has called for a mass rally against the pullout at a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site.
The group, Revava, says it wants at least 10,000 Jews to ascend the hilltop known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif on Sunday.
Fearing an eruption of violence, Israeli authorities have closed the site to non-Muslims, but Revava has vowed to defy the ban.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said the men who were arrested belonged to an outlawed ultra-nationalist group, Kahane Chai.
We will arrive in masses... and we will in any case try to enter
He said the backpack contained wiring, a note and cardboard, without elaborating on what was written on the note.
An Israeli police spokeswoman said some of those opposed to the Gaza withdrawal planned to distract the security services "so that they will not be able to carry out evacuations".
The arrests came a day after police in Jerusalem raised the level of alert in the city, amid growing fears of sabotage attempts by extremists.
Amos Gilad, a senior defence ministry official, said there were fears of an attack on the Temple Mount/Haram as-Sharif, but he said authorities would use "all means available, including unprecedented ones" to prevent it.
Revava leader Israel Cohen said supporters would try to enter the compound regardless of the ban.
"We reserve the right to pray at our holy site. We will arrive in masses... and we will in any case try to enter," the Associated Press news agency quoted him as saying.
Islamic leaders in Israel have called on Muslims to amass on the site to prevent Jews from entering.
The fate of the Temple Mount/Haram as-Sharif, where two large mosques stand above the ruins of two Biblical Jewish temples, is one of the most sensitive issues dividing Israel and the Muslim world.
Jews Plan to Raze Al-Aqsa in 2005: Palestinians
Additional Reporting By Yasser El-Banna, IOL Correspondent
GAZA CITY, April 10, 2005 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – Palestinian experts warned on Sunday, April 10, that threats by Jewish extremists to storm Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, has a more serious religious undertone as they believe that 2005 is the year for the construction of the so-called third temple.
“These groups are not joking. They unshakably believe that the year 2005 will see the establishment of the third temple at God’s orders,” Nihad Al-Sheikh Khalil, a researcher in Israeli affairs, told IslamOnline.net.
Although several Jewish groups have plotted to storm Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday, Khalil did not expect a major problem.
This, however, demonstrates that the Palestinians can not protect Al-Aqsa all by themselves despite their painstaking efforts, he said.
“Though few in numbers, these groups can translate their words into action since they are backed by the influential Israeli right-wing, which grows stronger day in and day out.”
Thousands of Palestinians gathered in and outside Al-Aqsa compound to protect it from Jewish ultra-nationalists. Around 3,000 Palestinians spent the night in the mosque.
Such groups, added the Palestinian expert, and the right-wing are wedded to the goal of derailing a planned Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip.
“They want [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon to reverse his plans and return to the rightist fold.”
Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which includes Al-Aqsa Mosque, represents the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because of its religious significance for Muslims.
Jews claim that their alleged Haykal (Temple of Solomon) exists underneath Al-Haram Al-Sharif which was the first qiblah (direction Muslims take during prayers).
It is Islam's third holiest shrine after Ka`bah in Makkah and Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia.
Its significance has been reinforced by the incident of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi`raj (the night journey from Makkah to Al-Quds and the ascent to the Heavens by Prophet Muhammad).
Young Palestinian men gather on the external wall of the Al-Aqsa mosque. (Reuters)
Khalil said Jewish extremists are planning to launch intense media campaign in the days to come to drum up much support.
Revava, a leading Jewish group, said on its Web site that posters and nylon signs are being put up in cities across Israel, and thousands of fliers have been distributed among the Israelis to rally a big march.
“In spite of intense police pressure and an official announcement that they will not allow a mass ascent to the Temple Mount, we are proceeding normally in our preparations for the historic event which is to take place as planned,” the extremist group vowed in an online statement.
Palestinian researcher Nezar Hamid said all Jewish extremist groups, though holding widely divergent opinions, are united on razing Al-Aqsa Mosque to build their alleged temple.
“They are led by retired army officers, tacitly backed by the army and well-trained when it comes to using weapons,” he added.
“Such Jewish groups also include American Evangelicals, who believe that the establishment of the Jewish state signals the coming of the Messiah.”
Hamid said such groups are “fed on Zionist and racist ideologies stemming basically from the right-wing and took, over the years, the shape of armed gangs, which work covertly and overtly.”
Chief among these groups are the Temple Mount Faithful, Gush Emunim, Kach, Kahana Chai and Betar, he added.
More than 3,000 Palestinians have spent the night inside Al-Aqsa mosque to help confront a possible aggression by Jewish extremists.
Israeli police sealed off the mosque and blocked approaches to the holy site.
At least 12 Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli occupation troops, who used batons and teargas canisters.
Only a few hundred adherents of the extremist Revava had shown up by mid-morning for a march they had said would draw 10,000. About a dozen were arrested.
Several times before, Israeli occupation forces had stormed the mosque’s esplanade and clashed with Muslim worshipers.
Palestinian and Israeli security officials had warned of a possible missile or air bombing attack by extremist Jews on the mosque.
Archeologists further warned that ongoing Israeli excavations weakened the foundations of the mosque, cautioning it would not stand a powerful earthquake.
A part of the road leading to one of the mosque’s main gates collapsed in February, 2004, due to the destructive Israeli digging work.
“We can only hope that in Israel there are enough people with the maturity to resist the messianic pull of radical rabbis,” said Yatom.
Meanwhile, the former head of the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency said that Israel faces the danger of a coup by “religious troops” if it does not stop far-right rabbis from preaching mutiny.
Danny Yatom, who headed Mossad from 1996 to 1998 and now serves as a lawmaker for the pro-pullout Labour party, said he saw the seeds of full-blown rebellion.
“There are too many rabbis calling for orders to be disobeyed en masse -- effectively, a mutiny. If there are enough soldiers willing to put such edicts ahead of the army, it will cause a crisis that could lead to a coup,” Yatom told Reuters.
He said Israel should learn from the failed attempt by French hardliners to engineer a coup against President Charles de Gaulle and scupper the 1962 withdrawal from Algeria.
“We can only hope that in Israel there are enough people with the maturity to resist the messianic pull of radical rabbis.”
Palestinians gather to defend holy site
Sunday 10 April 2005, 12:38 Makka Time, 9:38 GMT
A political leader of the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas has joined thousands of Muslim demonstrators for a rally in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound despite a ban by Israeli authorities, witnesses said.
Shaikh Hasan Yusuf, who was recently released from Israeli prison, was not entitled to enter occupied east Jerusalem on Sunday.
Thousands of Palestinians have gathered inside the al-Aqsa mosque since Saturday night to protect al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, from an Israeli extreme-right group that threatened to march on it.
"Around 15,000 Palestinian worshippers have prayed the dawn prayer here," Yusuf told Aljazeera on Sunday. He said 3000 had spent the night there.
"We call on Arab and Islamic nations and all people to immediately move to save the blessed al-Aqsa mosque," he said. "This is our soul, and a body can never live without a soul."
Yusuf said the gathering would continue indefinitely.
"We have announced there is an open sit-in. The battle will not end in hours or days. We have called on all our people in Jerusalem and the land occupied in 1948 to head towards al-Aqsa mosque," he said.
On Sunday morning, only a handful of rightist Jews had arrived, Reuters reported.
Young Palestinians rest inside
the al-Aqsa mosque compound
Revava, a far-right group, had urged followers to flock to the site revered by Jews as the Temple Mount at 7.30am (0430 GMT). The nearby Western Wall was set as the rendezvous area.
Although several dozen Jews attended morning prayers at the wall, there was no sign of an organised march up to the mosque. Israel's Army Radio said police, out in force to bar the Revava rally, arrested three leaders of the group at the wall.
"Given assessments that such a move on the Temple Mount may spark a flare-up and disturbances from worshippers there, this (ban) is final and non-negotiable," Jerusalem police chief Ilan Franco told Army Radio.
Thousands of Israeli police had encircled Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday, stopping cars and setting up roadblocks in an attempt to prevent the march.
Palestinian groups threatened to abandon a de facto ceasefire with Israel if the right-wing Jews went ahead with the march.
On Saturday, Islamic Jihad leader Muhammad al-Hindi warned that "touching the Al-Aqsa mosque would set the entire region alight".
The al-Aqsa mosque has been the target of several acts of arson and vandalism by Jewish extremists.
In 1969, a Christian Zionist set fire to the Minbar of Salah al-Din.
A few years later, American Jewish extremist Allen Goodman attacked Muslim worshippers in the mosque, killing and injuring scores.
In the late 1970s, a group of Jewish activists tried unsuccessfully to attack and destroy the al-Aqsa mosque and the nearby Dome of the Rock mosque using weapons stolen from Israeli soldiers.
The men told interrogators they had hoped the destruction of the Islamic edifice would trigger violence and bloodshed on such a scale it would induce the appearance of the the Jewish messiah, who would bring about salvation for the Jewish people and rule the world from Jerusalem.
Aljazeera + Agencies
Edited on, April 11, 2005, 6:19 AM GMT, by TigerFan.