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Last Updated: Friday, 9 February 2007, 17:26 GMT
Jerusalem 'tense' after clashes
Building work near Dome of the Rock
Israel denies the excavations threaten the al-Aqsa mosque
A tense calm is reported in the Old City of Jerusalem after clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians erupted at a contested holy site.

Dozens of people were hurt when police moved in to quell violent protests against excavation work in the area.

Skirmishes in other parts of the city have also been reported.

The violence flared over the digging work, which protesters say threatens the foundations of the al-Aqsa mosque - Islam's third holiest site.

The compound containing the mosque is also revered by Jews as the site of their biblical temples and therefore the most holy site in Judaism.

The BBC's Tim Franks, in the Old City, says the area may now have been cleared and sealed but elsewhere in East Jerusalem the police have said that Palestinian youths have been throwing rocks and petrol bombs.

He says the police themselves have been hitting back with stun grenades.

Stand-off

Palestinian Muslim clerics had called for a day of protest against the excavation works following days of rising tension.

Braced for possible violence, Israeli authorities had restricted entry to the mosque and deployed thousands of police in the Old City.

The clashes broke out after thousands of Palestinians attended Friday prayers at the mosque.

JERUSALEM HOLY SITE
SACRED TO MUSLIMS: Site of Prophet Muhammad's first prayers and ascent into Heaven, home to al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock
SACRED TO JEWS: Site of first and second Temples and the rock on which Abraham offered his son as a sacrifice. Western Wall is the holiest site in Judaism

Jewish worshippers were evacuated from the Western or Wailing Wall area below the complex as hundreds of riot police poured into the compound, firing an assortment of munitions.

Israeli police say 20 protesters and 15 police officers were injured in the clashes.

Farid Haj-haya was in the mosque when the police moved into the area.

He told the BBC that Israeli police had started shooting and using grenades after Friday prayers had finished.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld denied police entered the mosque itself, where about 150 protesters sought refuge.

After a tense stand-off, the protesters left the mosque after negotiations between officers and Muslim representatives.

Flashpoint

The excavations, which began on Tuesday, are a prelude to the construction of a new walkway leading to the compound.

Israeli authorities say the work is needed after a centuries-old walkway partially collapsed in 2004.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the works posed no threat to the mosque, about 60m (200ft) away.

"The tragedy is you have... people out there with very hateful, extremist agendas, who come and start with all this very extreme and hateful language about the Jews wanting to destroy wanting to destroy the mosques and the Jews wanting to build a synagogue there instead of a mosque and it's all just... rubbish," he told the BBC.

The compound, in the Old City in East Jerusalem - an area captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war - has regularly been a flashpoint for violence.

In 1996, Israel's opening of an exit to a tunnel near the site triggered riots in which 80 people died in clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops.

And in 2000, the Palestinian uprising began at the mosque following a controversial tour of the site by Israel's then opposition leader, Ariel Sharon.


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Palestinian youths clash with Israeli police





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