Israel bans access for non-Muslims to Jerusalem holy site

(GNU Image / MGN)

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli police on Tuesday banned non-Muslims from a contentious Jerusalem holy site until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan following two days of clashes with Palestinians at the site.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said rocks and other objects were hurled toward police forces and Jewish worshippers in a nearby plaza. A 73-year-old woman was lightly wounded and police arrested 16 suspects in the disturbances, which have been going on for three days, Rosenfeld said.

As a result, police decided to close access to Jewish worshippers and other visitors for the remainder of the week to prevent tensions with Muslim worshippers.

Since Sunday, Palestinians had holed up in the Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the mount and attacked officers with fireworks and other objects stockpiled inside.

The mosque is part of a compound sacred to both Muslims and Jews. Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, where they believe the Prophet Muhammad embarked on a night journey to heaven, while Jews refer to it the Temple Mount. The two biblical Jewish temples stood on the site.

Violence had erupted at the site in mid-September before spreading elsewhere. Since then Palestinians have carried out dozens of attacks, including stabbings, shootings and car ramming assaults, killing 32 Israelis and two visiting Americans. About 200 Palestinians have been killed during that time, most identified by Israel as attackers.

The unrest has led to renewed calls for peace talks, which last broke down more than two years ago.

Also Tuesday, visiting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that while he understood Israel’s security concerns, any measures it took would not “solve the underlying causes of the cycles of violence” that have plagued the region.

“I encourage you to take the courageous steps necessary to prevent a one-state reality of perpetual conflict that is incompatible with realizing the national aspirations of Israeli and Palestinian people,” Ban said, speaking in Jerusalem alongside Netanyahu.

Netanyahu asked Ban to use his final six months in office to rectify what he called the United Nations’ unfair treatment of Israel. He singled out the U.N. Human Rights Council, which he said always condemns Israel, the “country that does more to promote and protect human rights and liberal values than any other in the blood-soaked Middle East.”

“Our progressive democracy has faced more country-specific resolutions, more country-specific condemnation at the U.N. Human Rights Council than all the other countries combined,” Netanyahu said. “And I believe that this is a profound betrayal of the United Nations’ noble mandate.”

Peace negotiations with the Palestinians have been largely at a standstill since Netanyahu took office in 2009, with the last round of U.S.-brokered talks collapsing two years ago.

Later in the day, Ban met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, where he called on Palestinian leaders “to act effectively, particularly against incitement.”

Ban also urged the Palestinians to end the rift between Abbas’ Fatah movement in the West Bank and the Islamic militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. He said stability in Gaza requires Israel to lift the blockade it imposed on the enclave in 2007, when Hamas seized control.

Abbas said “our hands will always be extended for peace on the basis of the two-state solution with the 1967 border but the problem is the continuation of the occupation and settlements.”

Abbas thanked Ban for visiting the family of Mahmoud Badran, 15, who was killed earlier this month by Israeli troops in what the military said appeared to be an accidental shooting.

With little hope for a resumption of talks, a group of retired Israeli security chiefs on Tuesday presented a plan for breaking the deadlock.

The group, Commanders for Israel’s Security, is proposing a series of Israeli steps that it says would enhance security and improve conditions for restarting talks toward a final negotiated peace deal.

“The basis of the plan is to change the dynamic on the ground and to change the political atmosphere,” said retired Maj. Gen. Danny Rothschild, a former West Bank commander.

The group includes more than 200 retired generals and former senior officials from the Mossad and Shin Bet security agencies and national police force. Their opinions carry great weight in security-obsessed Israel.

Their “Security First” plan calls for Israel to complete construction of its West Bank separation barrier and relinquish claims to all land outside the structure – or more than 90 percent of the territory. It also recommends freezing some settlement construction and taking steps to improve the Palestinian economy, including in Arab areas of east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem – areas captured by Israel in 1967 – as parts of a future state. The group acknowledges that the steps it’s proposing fall short of Palestinian demands.

Former Mossad official Rolly Gueron, one of the group’s leaders, told foreign reporters Tuesday that this is not a peace plan or “road to salvation.” Instead, he said it’s meant to reduce friction and “open the door” to negotiations on establishing an independent Palestinian state.

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