After a private Israeli security officer shot and killed a Palestinian man, riots broke out near the Old City of Jerusalem, in which several Israelis were pelted with stones thrown by angry Palestinians, and one Israeli officer was allegedly stabbed.The clashes took place near the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, which is next to the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site. According to local media sources, Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli buses near the Western Wall and began throwing stones at the Israelis inside the guarded compound when they were chased by Israeli police forces onto the grounds of the al-Aqsa mosque.
The police then continued onto the grounds of the mosque, a move which eyewitnesses said provoked the rioters, who began throwing stones at the police. Israeli media reported that ten Israelis were injured, while Palestinian news agencies report that three Israelis were injured.
The al-Aqsa mosque was the site of the riots that began the second Palestinian uprising (intifada) in 2000. At that time, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, accompanied by dozens of soldiers and armed guards, visited the site of the mosque, which he and other Israelis believe should be destroyed to be replaced by a Jewish temple.
The visit sparked riots by Palestinians who were both angered by what they saw as desecration of a holy site, and fear that the Prime Minister’s visit signaled a design by the Israeli government to take over the mosque.
Wednesday’s riots came after months of tension in the Silwan neighborhood provoked by an announced plan by the Israeli municipal government of Jerusalem that it planned to take over the neighborhood, which is populated entirely by Palestinians, and turn it into Jewish-only homes and a biblical-themed tourist attraction.
The demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes in the neighborhood, and the takeover of other homes by Jewish settlers protected by Israeli troops and private security forces, has further increased the tension.