JERUSALEM (AP) — Masked Palestinian protesters hurled stones at policemen manning the gates of a sensitive Jerusalem holy site on Wednesday, prompting security forces to enter the compound and disperse the demonstrators, Israeli police said.
The skirmishes came as Israel marked “Jerusalem Day,” which commemorates the anniversary of Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel says the day marks the “unification” of the city and it is celebrated on the event’s lunar Jewish calendar date. The day often experiences unrest each year.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “a small group of rioters” caused the disturbance on the hilltop compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. He said no one was injured.
Azzam Khatib, the director of the Islamic religious authority that oversees the compound, said Israeli police “stormed” the area and prevented worshippers from entering the compound.
The issue of Jerusalem is one of the most intractable in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem, home to nearly all of the city’s 300,000 Arabs in addition to some 200,000 Jews, as the capital of their hoped-for state. Israel views the entire city, including the Old City which lies in the eastern sector, as its eternal capital. The Old City, which is predominantly populated by Arabs, is home to important holy sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians.
A festive Jerusalem Day march was expected later in the day, where thousands of Israelis planned to fly Israeli flags in a procession that begins in the western part of the city and winds through the Old City’s Muslim quarter until it reaches the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray located just beneath the hilltop compound.
Rosenfeld said hundreds of police fanned out in anticipation of the annual march. In the past, the marchers and Palestinians have clashed. Rosenfeld said the route of the march could be changed based on security assessments.
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