Israeli police out in force after al-Aqsa clashes

Palestinian cabinet meets in Hebron amid shrine furor


Israeli police stepped up security around al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Monday after several people were wounded in clashes in and around the fiercely contested holy site, as the Palestinian Cabinet held its weekly meeting in Hebron as a challenge to Israel's plans to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs to its list of national heritage sites.

"We have deployed reinforcements inside the Old City and will continue to limit access to the Temple Mount to Muslim men over the age of 50 as well as women," Jerusalem police spokesman Shmulik Ben Rubi told AFP, referring to the site by its Jewish name.

The compound will also be open to tourists "like any normal day," he added.


On Sunday clashes erupted after Muslim worshippers threw stones at a group of visitors they believed were Jewish extremists threatening the tense status quo of the site, where only Muslims are allowed to pray.

Police entered the compound soon thereafter, sparking clashes in and around the historic Old City between stone-throwing Palestinian youth and security forces. Seventeen people, including two police officers, were wounded.

Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the holiest site in the world for Jews and the third holiest for Muslims after Mecca and Medina. It has been a tinderbox for Israeli-Palestinian violence for decades.

On Monday, Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi for the Western Wall, a Jewish pilgrimage site adjacent to the site, sought to defuse tensions by reminding Jews that they are forbidden from entering the site for religious reasons.

"The Halacha (Jewish religious law) forbids Jews from entering the Temple Mount. There is no reason to fear that Jews will enter, not only for political and security reasons, but for religious reasons," he told military radio.

Jews are forbidden from entering for fear they would profane the "Holy of Holies" the inner sanctum of the Second Temple that is believed to have stood on the site before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Palestinian cabinet

The Palestinian Cabinet, meanwhile, has moved its weekly meeting to Hebron in a symbolic act against Israel's addition of a contested shrine in this West Bank city to its list of national heritage sites.

"The government met in Hebron to express that it stands with the Palestinian people against the Israeli plan to Judaise the Islamic and Christian holy sites," cabinet director Naim Abulhummus said in a statement.

The town has seen near-daily clashes between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli security forces since Israel announced that the Tomb of the Patriarchs, revered by Muslims and Jews, would likely be included in a national heritage plan.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has denounced the Israeli move as an "attack on the holy places," while his Islamist Hamas rivals in Gaza called for a new violent uprising against Israel.

The Palestinians said the move of Monday's Cabinet session from Ramallah to Hebron was a way to alert the international community to issues relating to holy sites.

The U.S. is currently trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.