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New York Times: U.N. Denounces ‘Provocations’ at Holy Sites in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM — The secretary general of the United Nations on Monday condemned what he called “provocations” at Jerusalem’s holy sites, hours after the Israeli police said officers had locked Palestinians inside Al Aksa Mosque to thwart a riot as Jews visited for the holiday of Sukkot.

Scores of officers entered the mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem at 7 a.m. on Monday and found “petrol bombs, stones, bottle rockets and fireworks” as well as “masked Palestinians,” according to the police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld. The officers shuttered the mosque with an unknown number of Palestinians inside, Mr. Rosenfeld said, as several hundred Jews and non-Muslim tourists ascended to Al Aksa compound during regular visiting hours, starting at 8 a.m.

Mr. Rosenfeld said no one was hurt or arrested. Among the visitors was Moshe Feiglin, a right-wing Israeli lawmaker, whose prior pilgrimages to the site have been a focal point for clashes.

The 37-acre compound is the holiest site in Judaism, and the third holiest in Islam. Jews call it the Temple Mount, Muslims the Noble Sanctuary. It has been a focus of increasing tension and violence in recent months. On Wednesday, before the weeklong Sukkot festival, three officers were hurt, and nine Palestinians were arrested in a confrontation where, Mr. Rosenfeld said, the police used stun grenades to disperse a crowd throwing stones, firebombs and other projectiles.

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said Monday that he was “deeply concerned by repeated provocations at the holy sites in Jerusalem.” First in a joint news conference with the Palestinian prime minister in the West Bank city of Ramallah, and later in an appearance here in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu o f Israel, Mr. Ban said, “These only inflame tensions and must stop.”

Mr. Ban also condemned Israeli settlement activity in East Jerusalem, and said, during the appearance with Mr. Netanyahu, “After this difficult summer for Palestinians and Israelis, both sides need to take steps to build trust and confidence.”

Mr. Netanyahu said that “Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo” on the Temple Mount “exactly as it has been for many decades.” Israel seized the site along with the rest of the Old City in 1967 but immediately handed it over to the Muslim authorities. The Israeli police handle security and generally prohibit Jews from praying on the Mount, the subject of growing protest from some Israelis, including Mr. Feiglin.

Mr. Netanyahu on Monday blamed “Palestinian extremists” for spreading “false and baseless rumors that we are threatening the Muslim holy places,” adding, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“Israel scrupulously maintains the protection of the holy sites, the right of all religions to worship in their holy places,” he said, “and will continue to do so, maintaining order, maintaining freedom of worship.”

More mainstream Jews are seeking to enter and pray at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, one of the most contested religious sites in the world, which Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary.

The radio station Voice of Palestine reported Monday that Israeli forces used rubber bullets and tear gas inside the mosque, a description that Mr. Rosenfeld rejected, and that 38 people were hurt. The Palestine Liberation Organization denounced the police action.

Mr. Feiglin, an ultranationalist who has denied the existence of the Palestinian nationality and advocated an Israeli withdrawal from the United Nations, said he visited the Mount with a group of six people before 9 a.m. without incident. He criticized the police for blocking Jewish visitors for the past several days, and for allowing what he called “Muslim terrorists” to remain at the site, albeit locked inside the mosque.

“I don’t understand why they did not arrest them all,” he said in a telephone interview. “It went very smooth, that’s true, but it is not the way it should be. To go up on the holy day, it’s supposed to be happy. It’s supposed to be singing and dancing and praying. Instead of that, you hear all the time the noise of the equipment the police use against demonstrations and so on.”

Mr. Rosenfeld said that the police acted to prevent “a second round” of the violence that erupted at the site last week, and that the items officers found indicated a major action was planned.

“It was positive; it was necessary,” he said. “The police units moved in ahead of time to prevent disturbances from taking place.”



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