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Clashes continue over construction at holy site in Jerusalem

SHARE Clashes continue over construction at holy site in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM — Palestinian teenagers threw rocks at Israeli police and attacked a Canadian tourist bus Saturday in a new wave of protests against Israeli construction work near a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.

The violence came a day after police stormed the disputed compound in the Old City, using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse Muslims, who rioted after Friday prayers. Protests against the construction have spread throughout the Muslim world, where demonstrators accused Israel of plotting to harm Islamic shrines.

Israel denies the repair work and accompanying excavations will come anywhere near the compound, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims.

Sporadic violence continued Saturday as Palestinian teenagers set large garbage containers on fire in the streets of east Jerusalem just outside the Old City and threw rocks at police nearby. Some of the rocks smashed the windows of cars parked on the side of the road. They also set fire to an Israeli flag. Other small protests broke out inside the Old City, police said.

The police, some on horseback and others in riot gear, responded by firing tear gas to disperse the protesters and arrested 15.

Angry Palestinians also pelted a bus carrying vacationing Canadians on a tour of the Mount of Olives holy site in east Jerusalem.

"We were just driving and all of a sudden a bunch of kids started picking up rocks and whatever they could get their hands on and started throwing it at the bus," said Dave Wood, one of the tourists. "This is our first day in the Holy City and it was quite disturbing to say the least."

A police station in east Jerusalem was also stoned, police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. No one was injured in the incidents Saturday, he said.

Police kept a beefed-up force in the city and maintained restrictions at the holy site, barring all Muslim men under the age of 45 from praying there Saturday.

In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, dozens of Palestinians threw stones at Israeli soldiers, the army said. The soldiers arrested 30 Palestinians, the army said.

In the southern West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets, witnesses said. Six protesters were treated for gas inhalation, medical officials said.

There were fears the violence could escalate and spread throughout the West Bank.

On Friday, about 200 riot police streamed onto the compound and scuffled with some of the 3,000 Muslim worshippers there. Clouds of tear gas rose into the sky and sharp booms pierced the air. Outside the compound, hundreds of teenagers hurled stones, iron bars, vegetables and at least one firebomb at police, authorities said. Police responded with stun grenades.

The compound — a catalyst for earlier rounds of Israel-Palestinian fighting — is home to the golden-capped Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa mosque and is believed to be the site where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is the third-holiest site in Islam.

Jews venerate the compound as the site of their biblical temples, and one of its outer walls — known as the Western Wall — is the holiest site in Judaism.

The Israelis say the purpose of the construction project is to build a new walkway leading to the holy site to replace a ramp that was damaged in a snowstorm three years ago.

But the Palestinians have expressed fears that the excavations under way are actually attempts to tunnel under the compound and damage their holy shrines.

Israeli officials reject that accusation and say they are not digging under the compound, or even close to it. They insist that the replacement of a ramp would not harm the holy site about 200 feet away.

The Arab League chief said Saturday the dig reflects "Israeli attempts" to tighten control over Jerusalem and urged the international community to intercede.

"There are plans to change the features of the city," Amr Moussa said in a statement distributed to the Arab representatives at an emergency League meeting in Cairo. The statement said the construction "is threatening the security and stability in the region."

Jordan and Egypt — Israel's sole Arab peace partners and key U.S. allies in the region — have demanded the Jewish state stop the work, as did Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Malaysia, which chairs the 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference, urged the international community to intervene immediately to stop the "illegal activities."

Associated Press writer Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.