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Middle East
Palestinians barred from Old City
Israeli police stop Palestinian worshippers as protests at al-Aqsa continue.
Last Modified: 10 Oct 2009 01:08 GMT

Israel has deployed extra troops around
the al-Aqsa compound [AFP]

Israeli police have barred Palestinians protesting in defence of the al-Aqsa mosque compound from gaining access to Jerusalem's Old City.

Friday's increased restrictions on the mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem followed a series of clashes that started late last month.  

Men under the age of 50 were prevented from accessing the mosque for the past six days.

Towards the end of Friday, Israel lifted its curfew, but for most of the day several hundred Palestinians were denied entry to the mosque.

Many performed Friday prayers just outside the gates of the Old City, while the heavily armed Israeli police deployed extra troops.

Palestinian leaders called for a one-day strike, as some suggested that the Israeli actions could spark a third uprising, or intifada, against the occupation.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president who heads the Fatah movement, called the strike "to peacefully protest".

'Holy places'

The protest also sought to "proclaim the attachment of the Palestinian people to their holy places and to Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the independent Palestinian state".
  

in depth

  Jerusalem's religious heart
  Jerusalem's myriad divisions
  Redefining the holy city's past
  Video: Praying for al-Aqsa access
  Video: Jerusalem remains an obstacle

Fatah accused Israeli forces of allowing rightwing Jewish extremists to enter the mosque compound while denying access to Muslims.

Security forces set up checkpoints around and within the Old City and were seen turning back Palestinians who do not live or work there.

But they were allowing in tourists and Jews wanting to pray at the Western Wall - also known as the Wailing Wall - just below the mosque compound.
  
Most shops in the Old City shut down, though some shop-owners complained about the strike.

"We need to strengthen our presence in Jerusalem, not weaken it," said Ramdan Abu Sbeeh, 32, a sweets-seller who defied the strike call.
   
A senior police official told public radio: "We have deployed thousands of people in Jerusalem and in the north of Israel following incitation by extremists."
  
Israeli police have accused the Islamic Movement of inciting tension and this week briefly detained its leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, whom they said had made "inflammatory statements".
  
Salah, who previously spent two years in Israeli prison, has repeatedly called in recent days for Muslims to "defend" al-Aqsa against Israel.

Ongoing clashes

Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera's correspondent in East Jerusalem, said: "Despite the heavy police presence around the Old City we have still been hearing of skirmishes and clashes taking place around occupied East Jerusalem.

"We've also heard of a brewing situation taking place not far from the Old City where dozens of Palestinian protesters have been clashing for more than an hour with Israeli police forces. There are at least four Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers who  were injured in those clashes. The protesters were subjected to tear gas by the Israeli police, that situation we are hearing has calmed down.

"All of these protests and skirmishes have been taking place today, as they have been throughout last week, because of Israel's continued restrictions on the al-Aqsa mosque. This has caused outrage not just in the territories but across the Muslim world.

"The Palestinians say it is yet another example of Israel asserting its occupation and presence here in the Old City. The Israelis are saying this is simply a security measure to keep the area safe," she said.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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