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Middle East

Flashpoint al Aqsa mosque re-opens a day after violent riots

Video by Molly HALL


Latest update : 2010-03-17

Israel has lifted a lockdown of the West Bank and re-opened Jerusalem's Temple Mount compound, which houses the al Aqsa mosque, a day after the most violent Palestinian rioting in years. Some 3,000 police officers remain on high alert.

AFP - Israel reopened the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound and lifted a days-old lockdown of the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, a day after Jerusalem saw the heaviest Palestinian rioting in years.

Tensions also appeared to be easing between Israel and its key ally the United States after a bitter diplomatic row erupted over new settlement plans announced last week during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said his forces remained on high alert for any unrest but that the mosque compound -- the holiest site for Jews and the the third holiest for Muslims -- had been reopened.

"Access to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is now free for both Muslim worshippers and tourists," he said, using the Jewish name for the site, which had recently been closed to Muslim men under the age of 50 and all non-Muslims.

He added however that some 3,000 police stationed in and around the Old City remained on a high level of alert amid fears of further unrest.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces across east Jerusalem in the worst rioting in years that left dozens of Palestinians and police wounded. Sixty Palestinians were arrested.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak meanwhile ordered the lockdown of the West Bank to be lifted overnight, an army spokesman told AFP.

Israel had on Saturday extended the closure as tensions soared in Jerusalem over the reopening of a rebuilt 17th century synagogue in the Jewish quarter of the Old City, a few hundred metres (yards) from the compound.

Israel sealed off the West Bank on Friday after the announcement that it planned to build new homes for Jewish settlers in annexed Arab east Jerusalem sparked a row with Washington and fuelled anger in the Palestinian territories.

In Washington senior US officials appeared eager to patch up relations, characterising the argument over a new settlement expansion in east Jerusalem as a disagreement between friends.

The row erupted when Washington, frustrated over a lack of progress in its peace brokering, reacted angrily last week to an Israeli announcement that 1,600 new settler homes would be built in annexed east Jerusalem.

The move came just two days after the United States had convinced the Palestinians to take part in "proximity" talks with Israel. Direct negotiations between the two sides were last suspended in December 2008.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters he expected a conversation "very soon" between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A US official later said that the telephone call could happen Wednesday.

Earlier, Clinton said Washington was engaged in "very active consultation" with the Israelis over steps that would demonstrate the requisite commitment to reviving peace talks but reaffirmed the two allies' "unshakable" bond.

The Israelis appeared keen to portray Washington's tone as at least a temporary suspension of hostilities.

"The state of Israel appreciates and cherishes the warm words from Secretary of State Clinton on the deep ties between the US and Israel and the US commitment to Israel's security," Netanyahu's office said.

At the same time he insisted that while Israel "has proven its commitment to peace" the Palestinians are "continuing to incite towards hatred and violence."

He cited Israel's removal of some of its hundreds of roadblocks in the occupied West Bank and its decision in November to impose a partial, 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the Palestinian territory, excluding east Jerusalem as proof of Israel's commitment to the peace process.

Date created : 2010-03-17


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