Jerusalem On a day and at a place holy to both Jews and Muslims, Israeli security forces battled thousands of enraged Palestinians on Friday, engulfing Jerusalem's most hotly contested sacred shrine in chaos. It was the second day of skirmishing within the walled Old City here, at a site known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Arabs as Haram al Sharif, or noble sanctuary. Rioting spread to other areas.
At least three Palestinians were killed and more than 230 Palestinians and Israelis injured, including this city's Israeli police chief. Five tourists visiting Christian sites in East Jerusalem also were injured. In a separate incident, an Israeli police officer was killed by his Palestinian patrol partner.
The bloodiest Temple Mount fighting in four years came amid rising tension over deadlocked peace talks. It mirrored the political battle over the revered site: Both Israelis and Palestinians claim sovereignty in the Old City, a conflict that remains the most stubborn impediment to a final peace settlement to end decades of contention.
The violence could not have come at a worse time for peacemaking. Talks collapsed in July at the U.S.-sponsored Camp David summit in Maryland precisely because of issues related to sovereignty over Jerusalem but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat have been struggling to revive negotiations and improve relations that had become bitter.
Palestinian leaders appealed to the Clinton administration for help amid fears that the violence will continue. They called a general strike for today and accused Israel of having ignited "a religious war." Israel accused the Palestinians of inciting attacks.
With the advent of the Jewish new year Friday night, Jerusalem's Old City was bracketed by unusually heavy patrols of paramilitary police. Barak summoned his security advisers to an emergency meeting and spoke by telephone with Arafat, urging the Palestinian leader to rein in troublemakers.
Israelis were prohibited from entering Palestinian-controlled territories until further notice.
Friday's clashes began about noon on the holiest day of the Muslim week. Palestinians were finishing up prayers at Al Aqsa mosque when youths among them began hurling rocks, iron bars and debris at Israeli police. Witnesses said some of the projectiles rained down onto shocked Jewish worshippers praying at the Western Wall, just below the Temple Mount. Many of the Jews had come to pray before the new year, which ushers in a reverential period of atonement.
Police responded in force, rushing the compound and firing tear gas, rubber-coated pellets and conventional ammunition.
Many of the Palestinians were clearly riled by a highly publicized tour Thursday of the Temple Mount by Israeli right-wing opposition leader Ariel Sharon. Although Jews are allowed to visit the site, Sharon is one of the most hated Israelis among Arabs. Many Palestinian leaders saw his presence as a provocation. The tour triggered disturbances Thursday that injured about 30 people.
"We are facing a religious war, ignited by Sharon," said Nabil abu Rudaineh, a senior adviser to Arafat.