A bus carrying Canadian tourists in east Jerusalem was pelted with stones Saturday in what police described as an organized protest spurred by Hamas. The incident came a day after security forces stormed the Temple Mount to disperse Muslims violently protesting the construction work at the Mughrabi Gate. The Canadian tourists, who were near the Mount of Olives when the bus came under attack, escaped unharmed, after police rushed to the scene to escort the bus to safety. The bus, however, was damaged by the rocks.
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Earlier Saturday, teenagers in east Jerusalem ignited large garbage containers just outside the Old City and threw rocks at nearby police while burning an Israeli flag. Three youths were arrested while throwing rocks at police near the bus terminal on Sultan Suleiman Street, across the street from Damascus Gate. Six masked assailants were arrested after throwing rocks at police near the Flower Gate. The six were caught on film by security video cameras.
Jerusalem police chief Ilan Franco said the Saturday events seemed to indicate a "specific organization" that pointed to Hamas's instigation of the acts of public disorder that began early last week but reached a peak following the Friday prayers at the Temple Mount.
Some 2,700 police were stationed throughout Jerusalem Friday in order to maintain order in advance of and following the prayers at the holy site. Although entrance to the Temple Mount was restricted to Muslim-Israeli men over the age of 45 and Muslim-Israeli women of all ages, protests broke out immediately following the prayer service, with participants throwing rocks.
Worshipers were evacuated from the Western Wall plaza below the Temple Mount to avoid harm.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police only entered the Temple Mount after youth who had managed to sneak into the compound began throwing rocks, following firey anti-Israel sermons broadcast on speakers across the courtyard.
According to Rosenfeld, 200 police officers entered through the compound's gates, and after being met by a hail of stones, fired stun grenades and used batons to disperse the protesters.
Approximately 150 protesters entered Al-Aksa Mosque itself, but police said they refrained from entering the mosque due to religious sensitivity, as Muslims consider it their third-holiest site. The standoff ended following negotiations between police and leaders of the Muslim community, including MK Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab List).
Throughout the day, a total of 15 police officers and 18 protestors were wounded in the scuffle, both on the Temple Mount and in Old City streets leading to its gates.
Youths threw rocks at police forces near a number of the gates leading to the Old City. After the melee at the Temple Mount, a group of protesters launched what police described as a "massive" hail of rocks, iron rods and even a petrol bomb toward police officers who were positioned at the Lions' Gate, outside of the Temple Mount compound.
Police said that, in general, the amount of planning in anticipation of Friday's incidents allowed police to offer an organized response and prevent further conflagrations. Police were fully outfitted with riot gear, which studies have proven to reduce police violence.
Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi personally reviewed the police preparations for the Friday prayers. He began by visiting the police stationed near the Temple Mount, where he held an on-site situation assessment with Franco. Then he instructed Police Operations Commander Bertie Ohayon to increase the number of police in the Northern District, in advance of a protest scheduled in Nazareth later in the afternoon.
After less than two hours at the Temple Mount, Karadi flew by helicopter to Nazareth, to oversee preparations for the march planned there by the Northern Front of the Islamic Movement. Police estimate that 5,000 marchers attended the protest, which ended peacefully.
But the Arab Higher Committee said Saturday that Friday's protests did not represent the end of the struggle against the archaeological dig and rebuilding of the ramp leading to the Mughrabi Gate. The organization held the second emergency meeting in a week over the weekend, and said that they planned to call on the UN to force Israel to halt construction on the site.
Protests also took place on Friday in Tulkarm and Jenin and at the Kalandiya border crossing and on Saturday, dozens of Palestinians threw stones at troops in Bethlehem. The IDF said that 30 Palestinians were arrested.