JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel deployed hundreds of extra police in Jerusalem where clashes broke out after Palestinian leaders called for a “day of rage” on Friday to protest at new Israeli security measures.
Palestinians also protested in a number of 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.
Around 800 extra police were posted in the heart of Jerusalem and adjacent Arab neighborhoods, where tensions have been high for the past week, following clashes at al-Aqsa Mosque and Palestinians throwing stones at 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. [ID:nL5N11L2VI]
“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.
The security and foreign affairs committee of Israel’s parliament gave the military approval to call up border police reserves in Jerusalem if needed.
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.
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.
One such attack led to the death of an Israeli driver in Jerusalem [ID:nL5N11K1KB]. Cars traveling on a highway that cuts through the West Bank have also been targeted.
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.
In another incident, police said three border guards were injured by a fire bomb hurled at their vehicle. Three people were arrested.
Israel this year increased prison terms for those caught throwing stones to up to 20 years, but this has had little impact, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to propose allowing direct fire at perpetrators.[ID:nL5N11820Q]
There are also discussions about imposing heavy fines on the parents of youths caught stone-throwing, a common form of Palestinian opposition to Israeli occupation, particularly during the Intifada, or uprising, in the 1980s.
Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at a southern Israeli town, damaging a bus but causing no injuries, authorities said. Such attacks usually draw retaliatory air strikes from Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has spoken to leaders in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt 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 Palestinians are not respecting the status quo by attempting to prevent access by non-Muslims.
For a Special Report on the conflict over al-Aqsa, click: here:DOME.pdf
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Alison Williams