Israelis, Palestinians battle over access to religious site

May 18, 2013 at 5:20 PM
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JERUSALEM, May 18 (UPI) -- Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian protesters Saturday near a mosque in East Jerusalem, Palestinian officials said.

Israeli security forces arrested five people and fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets on Palestinians protesting an Israeli decision to close Aqsa Mosque to Muslims Thursday and Friday in Jerusalem's Old City so ultraorthodox Jews could enter the compound to celebrate the Jewish holiday Shavout.

Aqsa is significant to members of both faiths. Jews celebrating Shavout, the holiday celebrating God's passing the Torah to Moses, want to travel to the site because the mosque sits on the Temple Mount, the land where the first temple is thought to have stood. To Muslims, Aqsa is part of the larger Dome of the Rock compound, the third-holiest site in Islam.

Palestinian officials told Gulf News they feared Israeli forces would use the clashes as an excuse to implement times for segregated worship at the site, restricting Muslim access to the site at certain times.

"We cannot give up defending Aqsa Mosque under any circumstances," said Najeh Bakeerat, director general of Al Aqsa Holy Compound. "The visits of the Jewish colonists to Aqsa are not meant for worshiping. They are simply provocative, depressive and compulsive visits."

Palestinian news agency Ma'an said UNESCO will send a delegation to Jerusalem to investigate the conflict.

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