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Jerusalem mayor takes tough stand against Al-Aqsa rock throwers as skirmish escalates

JERUSALEM — The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem cannot be used to harbor violent agitators, the city’s mayor said Thursday (Sept. 17), after Muslims stockpiled rocks and pipe bombs inside the mosque just before and after the start of the Jewish New Year and violently clashed with Israeli police.

“People can’t think they can use religious sites as a safe haven for violence,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. “We will increase measures … to ensure terrorists do not gain what they seek to gain.”

Police said they were trying to prevent Muslims on the Temple Mount from attacking Jewish worshippers praying at the Western Wall, directly below, as has happened in the past during Jewish holidays.

Muslims accused the Israeli government of sending in the police to allow ultra-Orthodox Jews to take over the mount, a holy site for Jews and Muslims, too.

The Temple Mount, the site of the ancient Second Jewish Temple, is administered by the Wakf, a Jordanian Islamic trust that would like to ban non-Muslims from visiting it and prohibits them from praying there.

Televised footage of Israeli riot police clashing with the stone-throwing mosque-goers standing behind iron barricades sparked outrage in the Muslim world.

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman called on the United Nations to take “urgent measures” to halt Israel’s “violations,” and he warned of a possible “religious war” if Jews continue to visit the Temple Mount, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Jordan has threatened to withdraw its ambassador to Israel, something it has done once before after Temple Mount clashes.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday that “Al-Aqsa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was buried and resurrected. “They have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet. We won’t allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem.”

Dore Gold, director-general of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the Temple Mount escalation part of “an evil wind of intolerance blowing through the Middle East.”

“We’re seeing attacks on churches, attacks on Shiite mosques” by Islamic extremists, “including Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood,” the diplomat said.

Gold accused the Palestinian Authority of fueling Muslim anger toward Israel.

“If you start rumors that Israel is changing the status quo, and putting fear into the heart of many Muslims, all you do is incite violence.”

— by Michele Chabin | RNS

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