Israeli police Sunday detained a senior Hamas leader after he entered the Temple Mount of the Old City of Jerusalem, violating a ban on worshippers from the West Bank.
Some 3,000 police were deployed in the Old City of Jerusalem early on Sunday in a bid to head off expected protests by extreme rightists on the Temple Mount, and by young Palestinians angered by the killings over the weekend of three Palestinian youths in Gaza.
Witnesses said the Hamas leader, Hassan Yousef, was driving back to the West Bank from Jerusalem when he was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint and taken from his vehicle by police.
Yousef is a resident of the West Bank, and did not have a permit to enter Jerusalem.
He is one of the most outspoken of the Hamas leaders who favor steering the movement away from violence and towards mainstream politics.
Anticipating a threatened mass protest by Jewish demonstrators early on Sunday, hundreds of Palestinians had spent the night in the mosque compound.
Police sources said that they had considered entering the Mount on Saturday to remove Yousef and others by force, but decided against it due to the risk of causing a riot.
"Al Aqsa is in danger," Yousef told reporters at the Temple Mount site. "The attempts to desecrate Al Aqsa have not ended."
Yet despite widespread fears of a spiral of violence in the wake of the threatened protests, only a few dozen Jewish demonstrators arrived and were easily rebuffed by police, who also confronted stone-throwing Arab counter-demonstrators.
Eight Israeli Arabs were injured, none seriously, in the clashes with police. One policeman was lightly injured by the stone-throwing,
The Arab protesters approached the Western Wall area, but were turned away by guards of the Waqf Islamic Trust, which administers the site.
Police early Sunday arrested nine members of the Revava movement behind the Jewish rally, including movement leader Yisrael Cohen, who was questioned on suspicion of disturbing the peace.
Later police barred entry to four right-wing legislators, Uri Ariel and Aryeh Eldad of the National Union, and Yehiel Hazan and Michael Ratzon of the Likud.
Police officials had said prior to the planned right-wing demonstration that Jews, including members of the Revava ["The 10,000] movement behind the protest, would not be allowed on the Temple Mount.
"Given assessments that such a move on the Temple Mount may spark a flare-up and disturbances from worshippers there, this [ban] is final and non-negotiable," Jerusalem police chief Ilan Franco told Army Radio.
Apart from barring entry to Jews, police had sought to limit entry to the Mount to Arabs over age forty.
Islamic fundamentalists had issued calls "to defend the mosques" on the Mount, implying that the Jewish protesters had planned to do them harm.
Arab anger was also sparked by the killings Saturday afternoon of three Palestinian teenagers by IDF Golani troops deployed on the Philadelphi route on the Israel-Egypt border. The troops opened fire when they noticed five teenagers crawling from Rafah toward the border, which has been frequently used in the past for smuggling of arms to Palestinian terror groups.
In retaliation, militants in the Strip fired dozens of rounds of mortar shells overnight Saturday. There were no injuries in the shelling. The IDF did not respond.
Underlying the fears for violence in Jerusalem Sunday was the volatile character of the Mount, where the second Palestinian uprising effectively began in 2000. At the time, soon after a visit to the Mount by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon, Israeli police clashing with stone-throwing protesters shot dead several of the demonstrators.
The site is revered by Jews as the location of the ancient Temples, and by Muslims as the point from which the Mohammed ascended to heaven.
The site was declared off-limits to Jews from the inception of the uprising until a year and a half ago, when then-public safety minister Tzachi Hanegbi reversed the ban, allowing Jews to visit the site, with the stipulation that they be forbidden from praying there.
Ezra: Revava succeeded in tying up police Israel's police minister, Gideon Ezra, said the far-right group Revava, which had threatened to bring thousands to the shrine Sunday, succeeded in keeping the security forces busy.
"We've got around 3,000 (police) from all around the country brought into Jerusalem, instead of doing what they have to do in other places," Ezra told reporters during a tour of the area, speaking in English.
Organizers have said Sunday's event was a trial run for the summer's withdrawal when they want to divert as many troops as possible from dismantling Jewish settlements in Gaza by forcing them to secure other areas, including the Jerusalem shrine.
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