Violence Erupts After Ramadan Prayers; Israeli Killed In Shooting Attack
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Violent clashes erupted on the Temple Mount after Ramadan prayers on Friday just hours after an Israeli woman was killed and two others wounded in a drive-by shooting attack.
Palestinian leaders have called for an intensification of clashes with Israelis on Friday and Saturday, to mark the 13th anniversary of the start of the first intifada or uprising, which lasted from 1987 to 1993.
Nine Palestinians were reported injured, one critically, in clashes with police after noontime prayers. Twenty-one policemen were also lightly wounded from stones and other objects thrown at them.
Trouble erupted as some 2,000 worshippers leaving the Temple Mount began throwing stones and other objects at police. Dozens stormed and burned a small police station at the Lion's Gate, which had previously been set alight during rioting in October. Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at the rioters.
Earlier an Israeli woman was killed and two others wounded in a shooting attack south of PA-controlled Hebron.
Two of the victims were teachers on their way to work. Gunmen in a passing car opened fire on their vehicle before fleeing in the direction of the PA autonomous areas.
Rina Dudovsky, a 39-year-old a mother of six, will be buried this afternoon. The critically wounded driver is fighting for his life in a Jerusalem hospital, while another passenger has lesser injuries.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement that he viewed the attack "very gravely," but it would not break Israel's willingness to fight the terror.
"Attacking civilians is a sign of cowardice and it will not break the strength of our position and our decided battle against violence and terror," Barak said. "Like we proved in the past, murderers who carry out these deeds will not be exonerated."
There was no immediate PA reaction to the attack.
On Thursday, two Israeli soldiers and a woman were wounded when the car in which they were traveling came under fire from gunmen in another vehicle. One soldier's condition is grave.
Two Palestinians described as suspected terrorists were shot and lightly wounded by troops, the army announced.
Thousands of police were deployed in Jerusalem for the second week in a row in preparation for Muslim prayers on the second Friday of Ramadan, the Muslim fast-month.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said about 125,000 worshippers were present as noon prayers began at the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount. The site is holy to both Jews and Muslims and a major point of conflict, both on the ground and in the political realm.
As was the case last week, Israeli Arabs and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem were allowed onto the mount, while residents of PA-controlled areas were prohibited from entering the area, because of continuing fears of stepped-up violence.
Palestinian groups, including PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction and the Islamic movement Hamas, issued a statement calling for "days of full escalation, where marches in all towns and villages go out to confront the siege."
"The intifada will continue," West Bank Fatah head Marwan Barghouti told reporters on Thursday. "We will see big demonstrations on Friday and Saturday."
Adding to the tensions are reports that Israel's most-wanted terrorist has escaped from a Palestinian Authority jail.
The call came as Hamas announced on its website that Mohammed Deif, a leader of the organization's military wing and considered highly dangerous, had "escaped" from a PA jail where he has been held for several months.
Deif tops Israel's most wanted list for involvement in terrorist attacks including a string of suicide bombings in 1996, which left dozens dead and hundreds wounded, including at least two American citizens. He is also wanted for the kidnapping and murder of an Israeli soldier - also an American citizen - in 1994.
Deif was formerly an assistant to Yehiye Ayyash, a Hamas "master bombmaker" killed in 1996, presumably by Israeli agents, when his mobile phone exploded.
Israeli officials have been hesitant to comment on the reports and there has been no official confirmation from PA sources.
However, experts question whether Deif's alleged escape was an accident.
"You don't just escape from [PA] prison," said Roni Shaked, a specialist on terrorism. "Maybe it could happen once or twice, but when they get out one after the other, month after month, it's no accident."
Israel has long accused the PA of maintaining a "revolving door policy" - arresting suspects under pressure from Israel and the international community, then allowing them quietly to "escape" several months later.
This endorses what they stand for and encourages further terror attacks, Israel argues.