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Unrest grows in Jerusalem

The Associated Press

JERUSALEM – Club-wielding Israeli police beat back young Palestinians on Friday outside the Jerusalem mosque that has been a flashpoint for recent clashes as world leaders urgently appealed for a halt to some of the worst violence in Palestinian areas in decades.

Friday, October 13, 2000

JERUSALEM – Club-wielding Israeli police beat back young Palestinians on Friday outside the Jerusalem mosque that has been a flashpoint for recent clashes as world leaders urgently appealed for a halt to some of the worst violence in Palestinian areas in decades.

The mediators have sought, without success, to calm two weeks of violence that escalated Thursday when two Israeli soldiers were mutilated by a mob of enraged Palestinians. Israel responded with combat helicopters that fired rockets at key Palestinian targets – including the residential compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Palestinians declared Friday a ”day of rage,” and thousands of police were waiting in Jerusalem’s Old City as Muslims arrived for midday prayers at the Noble Sanctuary compound, the third holiest site in Islam.

Muslim men under 45 were turned back on the reasoning that they would be most likely to participate in rioting. Scuffles broke out as police with clubs hit young Palestinian men attempting to enter the mosque compound, and Palestinians threw stones and bottles. At least two Palestinians were injured.

”They won’t allow me to go and pray,” said Abu Abdullah Sahir, 29. ”After everything else that has happened this makes me very angry.”

The current round of violence broke out Sept. 28 after hawkish Israeli leader Ariel Sharon visited the compound, which Jews call the Temple Mount and revere as the holiest site in Judaism.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has been most prominent among a group of distinguished diplomats who have tried to broker a truce to the Israeli-Palestinian bloodletting. Annan planned to meet again on Friday with Arafat.

Many in the region described Thursday’s chaos as a nail in the coffin for the peace process that Israel, the Palestinians and President Clinton had invested in over the past seven years. The tangible and psychological damage left from the day’s events led many to declarations of despair.

”I believe Mr. Barak turned the light off tonight,” said senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. ”When it’s going to be back on, I honestly don’t know.”

An angry Barak lashed out at Arafat, questioning the Palestinian leader’s commitment to peace and holding him indirectly responsible for the deaths of the soldiers.

Barak said Israel would go after those responsible and lashed out at Arafat for releasing dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants from jails. Israeli officials warned of possible terror attacks in the heart of Israel as a result of the attacks and security forces went on high alert.

”This is a grave act that increases the probability of terror attacks,” Barak said.

On Thursday, Israeli tanks circled Palestinian cities and the army clamped an internal closure on the areas, preventing Arab residents from leaving their communities. Overnight, eight missiles were fired on a Palestinian police academy in Jericho after the centuries-old ”Peace Upon Israel,” synagogue there was burned.

A politically weak Barak said he was trying to form a unity government. He held talks late Thursday with parliament faction leaders, including Sharon, and invited his right-wing Likud party to join an emergency coalition. Sharon has rebuffed Barak in the past, but the prime minister said the two leaders would continue to talk through the weekend.

For the Palestinians, Sharon’s inclusion in the government would likely be seen as another indication that Barak was rapidly changing directions on peacemaking. Erekat called Sharon ”the death kiss to the peace process.”

Thursday’s turmoil appeared to extinguish hopes that Israel and the Palestinians could negotiate a truce and bring an end to the bloodshed that has left at least 94 people dead, the vast majority Palestinians.

It was the first day since the violence broke out that not a single Palestinian was killed. The Israelis warned the Palestinians that they would be targeting key buildings, which were hurriedly evacuated and were empty when they were hit.

The brutal killing of the soldiers in the West Bank town of Ramallah incensed Israelis.

Israel’s two mass-circulation newspapers ran large photos of the attack on their front pages Friday. Under a headline, ”A lynching of IDF soldiers,” the Yediot Ahronot daily showed a Palestinian man leaning out of the second-floor window of the Ramallah police station, raising his bloodied hands in triumph to signal to the cheering crowd below that the deed had been completed. A second photo showed the body of one Israeli soldier being dropped from the window.