Israel ramps up security in Jerusalem's Old City

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 18, 2015 6:08 AM

By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel deployed hundreds of extra police around the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday after Palestinian leaders called for a 'day of rage' to protest at new Israeli security measures.

Around 800 extra police were posted in the heart of the city and adjacent Arab neighborhoods, where tensions have been high for the past week, following violent clashes at al-Aqsa Mosque and stone-throwing attacks by Palestinians against Israeli cars.

The focus of tension is the compound housing al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest places in Islam. Jews refer to the area as Temple Mount, where an ancient Jewish temple once stood. It is the most sacred place in Judaism.

"The Israeli police have heightened security in and around Jerusalem and the Old City in order to prevent and respond to any incidents that could take place," said spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, adding that undercover units had been deployed.

In an effort to limit the threat of violence, Israel also banned access to al-Aqsa for all men under 40 on Friday, the Muslim holy day. But rather than putting a cap on unrest, the restrictions risked further fuelling anger and frustration.

Palestinian protests were planned in several cities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus, where a young man was shot by Israeli security forces after throwing a fire bomb, the Israeli army and medics said.

There was a heavy police presence at Qalandia, the main checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, which has become a focal point of demonstrations, with frequent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israel security forces.

In East Jerusalem, the predominantly Palestinian side of the city, a municipal bus was attacked with stones, forcing the driver to flee, the police spokesman said. When police arrived at the scene, the bus had been set ablaze.

As well as tensions over al-Aqsa, Palestinians are angry at plans by Israel to allow police and soldiers to open fire on anyone seen throwing stones at Israeli vehicles.

There have been a series of such attacks in recent weeks, including one that lead to the death of an Israeli driver in Jerusalem. Cars traveling on a highway that cuts through the West Bank have also been targeted.

Israel this year increased prison terms for those caught throwing stones to up to 20 years, but it has had little impact, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to propose allowing direct fire at perpetrators.

There are also discussions about imposing heavy fines on the parents of youths caught stone-throwing, an act which has long been symbolic of Palestinian opposition to Israeli occupation, particularly during the Intifada, or uprising, in the 1980s.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has spoken to leaders in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in recent days to raise his concerns about Israel's actions at al-Aqsa, which he sees as an attempt to change the long-standing status quo at the site, where Jewish access is permitted but Jewish prayer banned.

Israeli officials in turn accuse Palestinian leaders of inciting violence against Jewish visitors and say the Palestinians themselves are not respecting the status quo by attempting to prevent access by non-Muslims.

For a Special Report on the conflict over Al-Aqsa, please click: http://graphics.thomsonreuters.com/15/05/ISRAEL-JERUSALEM:DOME.pdf

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Dominic Evans)