IDF: Palestinian Protests Dying Out as Economy Remains a Key Concern

Army assessments of the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem suggest that the protests are dying out and the Palestinian people are loath to risk the recent improvement in their economy. This is the case despite efforts by Fatah, the Palestinian Authority and especially Hamas to incite the Israel Defense Forces and other security arms.

"The average Palestinians are not interested in losing what they have. Jerusalem does not bother them to the point where they will risk what they have gained since the end of the second intifada," a senior officer in Central Command told Haaretz yesterday.

"The organizers of the protests have so far failed to rally the masses. What has happened in Jerusalem and Hebron is relatively minor in scale. It was blown out of proportion by Al Jazeera and some of the media in Israel."

Central Command sources said the PA was careful to prevent demonstrations from getting out of hand and curtailed the role of Fatah activists.

Calm prevailed in Jerusalem yesterday after a day of riots in East Jerusalem Tuesday. The gates of the Temple Mount were opened with no restrictions on Muslim worshippers, tourists or Jewish visitors, ending five days in which authorities limited entry to the disputed site. However, the police are staying vigilant and maintaining a high level of alert throughout the city, at least until Friday.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Palestinians in East Jerusalem set tires and garbage bins ablaze and hurled rocks at Israeli riot police, who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.

The demonstrations led Jordan's King Abdullah to issue a statement yesterday describing Jerusalem as "a red line."

The international community, he said, "should not be silent about Israel's attempts to get rid of Jerusalem's Arabs residents, Muslims or Christians." He made the remarks during talks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Amman.

Meanwhile, some 3,000 officers were put on high alert yesterday after Hamas called for anti-Israel protests; the Islamist group had called for Tuesday to be a "day of rage" for the Palestinian people "against the occupation's procedures in Jerusalem against Al-Aqsa Mosque."

For the most part, clashes between Palestinians and security forces were not reported in East Jerusalem and the villages surrounding it. One notable exception was the Qalandiyah refugee camp north of Jerusalem, where some clashes between Palestinian stone-throwers and Israeli soldiers were reported.

Dozens of Palestinians gathered at the Qalandiyah checkpoint, pelting IDF soldiers with stones.

The troops in turn responded by firing tear-gas canisters and rubber-coated bullets; Palestinian sources reported that at least 17 people were injured.

Similar but less-intense clashes took place at that Shuafat refugee camp, north of Jerusalem. There were no reports of anyone hurt.

Clashes were also reported in Hebron, south of Jerusalem, and in the villages of Hawara and Beita, south of Nablus.

Nearly 100 Palestinians were injured in clashes with security forces in recent days, most from rubber-coated bullets or inhaling tear gas. More than 60 demonstrators were arrested. Fourteen police officers suffered injuries during the clashes.

Police chief David Cohen toured Jerusalem's Old City during the clashes and said he did not believe that the recent violence would spark a third intifada.

"We are seeing signs of disorderly conduct, but that is only a headline," Cohen said. "We must be careful about characterizations and remarks being made."

Thousands of Palestinians, meanwhile, staged a protest march in the Gaza Strip to protest Israeli measures in Jerusalem.

Ahmed Bahar, a senior figure in Hamas, called for an escalation of armed attacks against Israel and urged Arab states "to shoulder their responsibilities and send their warplanes and armies to rescue the Al-Aqsa Mosque and end the Jewish policy of Judaizing Jerusalem."