Police brace for Arab violence after Friday prayers
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
Jerusalem police were on a heightened state of alert ahead of Friday Muslim prayers due to tensions surrounding Israeli excavation near the Temple Mount.
The dig, which is taking place dozens of meters outside the holy site ahead of the construction of a new bridge to the Mughrabi Gate, has spurred Muslim calls for violence and a new intifada.
Police were planning to limit Muslim entry to the Temple Mount to men over the age of 45 with Israeli ID's, in an attempt to ward off violence at the compound after the noon-time prayers.
More than 2,000 police officers - double the normal level - will be deployed throughout the Old City and nearby areas of east Jerusalem.
Police fear that Palestinians will attempt to carry out terror attacks in response to the salvage dig, and that riots will break out in the capital and other places.
In an effort to soothe tensions, Israel is considering broadcasting real-time, 24-hour video from the site to allay Muslim concerns of damage to the holy site, the Antiquities Authority said Thursday.
The proposal, which was the brainchild of lawmaker Israel Hasson, was quickly rejected by Islamic officials as "ridiculous."
Meanwhile, about one hundred Israeli Arabs demonstrated at the site Thursday, answering a call by the Islamic Movement in Israel which has been leading the protest against the dig.
The movement's radical leader has been ordered by a Jerusalem court to stay out of the Old City of Jerusalem for the next 10 days after scuffling with police at the site.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued a statement Thursday critical of the renovation and calling on Israel "to suspend any action that could endanger the spirit of mutual respect until such time as the will to dialogue prevails once again."
The eight-month construction project is meant to replace a decades-old stone ramp that partially collapsed in a snowstorm three years ago.
The Temple Mount, which is Judaism's holiest and Islam's third holiest site, has been the scene of violence in the past, which later spilled out across the country.
Baseless Palestinian allegations that Israel's opening of an additional exit to the Western Wall tunnels in 1996 were damaging al-Aksa Mosque sparked a wave of Palestinian violence that killed 80 people, while Ariel Sharon's 2000 visit to the Temple Mount as opposition leader was followed by the latest round of Palestinian violence that has continued for over six years.
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