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Israeli Police Clash with Palestinians Near Disputed Holy Place

10 February 2007

Israeli police have clashed with Palestinians during violent protests in disputed East Jerusalem for the second straight day. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the unrest is centered around a hotly disputed holy place in the city claimed by both Muslims and Jews.

Israeli police fired tear gas to disperse Palestinian stone-throwers, protesting Israeli renovations near the Mosque of al-Aqsa in Jerusalem's Old City, the site Jews call the Temple Mount. It is the holiest place in Judaism, and third holiest in Islam. The Palestinians set trash bins on fire, and stoned a tourist bus outside the Old City walls.

It was the second day of violent protests. After Muslim prayers on Friday, police stormed into the al-Aqsa compound, and used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse Palestinian stone-throwers.

Palestinians say the Israeli renovations could cause grave danger to the foundation of the mosque. Naif Halisi, an Arab shopkeeper in the Old City, told VOA that it is a provocation.

"The Israeli government wants this to happen to create problems. They are stupid. They want to create something out of nothing. The Aksa is not for them. The Aqsa is for the Muslim people," he said.

Israel says the renovations, which began this week, are aimed at repairing an ancient walkway leading to the holy place that was damaged three years ago in a snowstorm. In the first stage, archaeologists are excavating to make sure that precious artifacts will not be damaged.

Archaeologist Gideon Avni says the work will not endanger the walls, or foundations, of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock.

"All the work we are conducting here is absolutely outside the limits of the Temple Mount; nothing will be conducted within the area of the wall," he said.

The Israeli government has rejected calls from across the Arab and Muslim world to halt the project. It says it will not cave in to threats from Islamic militants, who are exploiting the situation to incite violence.

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