Palestinians press protests of Israeli rebuilding project
17 are arrested in conflict over work at holy site
JERUSALEM -- Sporadic Palestinian protests, including a rock-throwing attack on a busload of Canadian tourists, broke out in Jerusalem and the West Bank yesterday over Israel's construction of a ramp leading to a flashpoint holy site.
The demonstrations occurred the day after Israeli police raided the mosque compound, firing tear gas and stun grenades at rioting Muslims. Protests have spread throughout the world as Muslim leaders accused Israel of trying to damage the Islamic shrines.
Israel denies the repair work will come anywhere near the holy site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
In Jerusalem, a few dozen Palestinian teenagers threw stones at Israeli security forces at the walled Old City, burning an Israeli flag at one point. At the Mount of Olives holy site, Palestinians pelted a Canadian tour bus, but no one was injured.
"We were just driving and all of a sudden a bunch of kids started picking up rocks and whatever they could get their hands on and started throwing it at the bus," said Dave Wood, one of the tourists. "This is our first day in the Holy City and it was quite disturbing to say the least."
Israeli police arrested 17 protesters in Jerusalem protests that were "relatively quiet," police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. Israeli crews did not work on the ramp yesterday, the Jewish Sabbath.
In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, dozens of Palestinian youths threw rocks at Israeli soldiers guarding a checkpoint into Jerusalem. The soldiers detained 30 protesters, the army said.
In a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron, police responded with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets. No injuries were reported at either demonstration.
In anticipation of further protests in Jerusalem today when the work will resume, police will maintain a beefed-up force and restrictions at the mosque compound, barring all Muslim men under age 45 from praying there, Ben-Ruby said.
On Friday, about 200 riot police streamed onto the compound shooting stun grenades and tear gas when some of the 3,000 Muslim worshi pers there threw rocks at them. Clouds of tear gas rose into the sky and sharp booms pierced the air.
The compound -- a catalyst for earlier rounds of Israel-Palestinian fighting -- is home to the third- holiest site in Islam and is believed to be the site where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.
Jews venerate the compound as the site of their biblical temples, and one of its outer walls -- known as the Western Wall -- is the holiest site in Judaism.
The Israelis say the purpose of the project is to build a longer and wider walkway leading to the mount to replace a ramp that was damaged in a 2004 snowstorm. But the Palestinians say the excavations are actually attempts to damage their shrines.
Israeli officials reject that accusation and say they are not digging under the compound as the work is about 200 feet away from the mount.
The Arab League chief said yesterday the dig represents Israeli attempts to tighten control over Jerusalem and urged the international community to intercede.
"There are plans to change the features of the city," Amr Moussa said in a statement.