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Israel calls up reservists to beef up attack on Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem

AP , Friday 18 Sep 2015
Palestinian man argues with an Israeli border police officer during a protest in Jerusalem's Old City on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015 (Photo: AP)
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Israel made a rare decision on Friday to call up a few hundred border police reservists to beef up security, following clashes with Palestinian protesters at Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site.

Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of Parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee which made the decision in a "special discussion," said the additional forces "will help in returning order quickly" to Jerusalem.

Several policemen were wounded Friday in Jerusalem following clashes, and three were taken to a hospital, authorities said. Emergency services said one officer was shot in the arm.

Such clashes happened near the area where an Israeli man died this week after Palestinians pelted his car with rocks. About a dozen Israelis have been wounded in the violence over the past week.

Most of the unrest has focused on Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site — a hilltop compound sacred to Muslims. The compound is a frequent flashpoint and its fate is a core issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Muslims revere it as the Noble Sanctuary, where they believe Islam's Prophet Muhammad ascended on a visit to heaven.

Since Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, Jews have been allowed to visit — but not pray — at the compound. Under an arrangement, Muslim authorities manage the site's religious and civilian affairs under Jordanian supervision, while Israeli police oversee security.

Unrest began Sunday on the eve of the Jewish new year holiday of Rosh Hashanah when Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque and threw rocks and firecrackers at officers.

Rumors had been spreading among Palestinians of a "plot" to take over the site after activists from a Jewish group publicized a notice for "a mass visit to the Temple Mount" on Sunday.

Israel has reiterated its position that it has no plans to change the status of the site and will reserve it for Muslim prayer only, but even rumors to the contrary are enough to spark unrest.

Police entered the hilltop compound three days in a row to disperse Palestinians who had holed up inside the mosque with stockpiles of rocks and fireworks. The Israeli response sparked condemnations across the Arab world and concern that the tensions could spiral out of control.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the clashes in particularly harsh language, claiming that none of Jerusalem's holy sites belonged to Israel.

Public security minister Gilad Erdan on Friday blamed Abbas for "incitement and lies" that led to violence. He said that by bringing explosive materials and rocks into the holy site, rioters had turned the "house of worship" into a "warehouse of terror."

On Friday, police put thousands of officers on patrol. It also banned Muslim men under the age of 40 from praying at the site in an attempt to curb violence as mostly younger Palestinians throw rocks at the site.

There were minor protests on Friday in Hebron in the West Bank.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has telephoned world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, urging them to take measures at the U.N. Security Council to stem the unrest, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

He told the leaders in his calls Thursday that "such aggression flagrantly violates the holiness of religions and gives a hand to fan extremism and violence in the entire world," the report said. He also spoke with Abbas concerning the developments.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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