Relative calm returns to contentious Jerusalem holy site

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Written by Daniel Estrin

JERUSALEM (AP) — Quiet returned to a contentious Jerusalem holy site Wednesday after three days of clashes between Muslims and Israeli forces at the hilltop compound and following a spurt of Palestinian attacks against Israelis that killed one citizen during a Jewish holiday.

Israeli armed forces deployed heavily at the entrance to the compound and adjacent to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where Muslim demonstrators clashed with Israeli forces over the last three days throughout the Jewish new year holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Police appeared cautious not to inflame the situation by getting too close to the mosque.

Fifteen religious Jewish visitors toured the site early Wednesday, accompanied by Muslim authorities who administer the compound and an Israeli officer. The site is revered by both Muslims and Jews and is a frequent flashpoint for tensions. Jews are permitted to visit the hilltop compound but banned from praying there.

Police had entered the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in previous days to disperse protesters who had holed up inside after hurling rocks, concrete blocks and firebombs at officers. The Israeli response sparked condemnations across the Arab world and concern that the tensions could spiral out of control.

The fate of the compound in Jerusalem’s Old City is a core issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, site of the two biblical Jewish temples. Muslims revere it as the Noble Sanctuary, where they believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Non-Muslim visitors are only allowed to enter the site at specific hours and are banned by police from praying there.

Elsewhere in Jerusalem, tensions have been high following the death of an Israel after Palestinians pelted his car with rocks. Several Israeli civilians and police have been injured in attacks by Palestinians this week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed tougher measures to curb the violence at an emergency meeting Tuesday night.

“On the eve of the holiday it was again proven that throwing stones can kill,” he said. “It was decided to increase steps in several areas: changing open-fire orders will be examined as will be setting minimum sentences for these offenses and imposing heavy fines on minors — and their parents — who commit these offenses.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told Israel’s Army radio Wednesday that “the approach will be that anyone who holds a rock or a firebomb will be considered someone who is holding a murder weapon.”

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