Palestinians Clash With Settlers, Border Police in East Jerusalem

Arab Silwan residents say settlers, taking a shortcut to a spring, tried to break down a mosque gate; settlers: We don't know what happened.

Arab residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan clashed with Border Police forces early Thursday, setting four cars and two motorcycles on fire and hurling stones at firefighters summoned to the scene.

Silwan Palestinian throwing stones Reuters July 27, 2010

A Jewish resident of the region, 22, was lightly hurt when a rock was hurled at his head. The Palestinian demonstrators also set fire to trees, trash receptacles, a guard's post and more.

According to the demonstrators, the clashes began when settlers tried to break down a gate leading to a mosque courtyard.

"At three a.m., four settlers arrived and asked to open the gate so they could take a shortcut to a spring," said Mahmoud Karin, a resident of the neighborhood and an employee of the Silwan information center. "One of the [Muslim] worshippers saw them and yelled to them to find out what they were doing and they fled," he said.

Palestinians began hurling rocks at settlers' homes following the incident, and local security personnel began firing shots into the air. During the clash, a settler's car erupted into flames, apparently due to a firebomb. Palestinian vehicles in the area also sustained damage.

The settlers involved in the incident denied the Palestinian allegations, saying that "the story with the gate is completely unfamiliar to us." A settler spokesman said that the clashes had begun Wednesday evening, long before the 3 a.m. incident described by the Palestinians. "We don't know what happened, this area is usually quiet. It is clear to us that this involves a group of extremists, and we have been in contact with many of the residents who clearly didn't want this to happen."

Tensions in Silwan have risen in recent months over Israeli government plans to demolish houses built illegally in the region.