Israeli police prevent march at Jerusalem holy site


Israeli police sealed off a Jerusalem shrine this morning to foil a march by ultranationalist Jews which Palestinian militants had warned could scupper their ceasefire.

Israel banned the march of protesters intent on derailing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to pull troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip, and security forces blocked approaches to the Old City holy site revered by Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and Jews as Temple Mount.

Israeli policemen detain a right-wing Jewish activist at the Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem.
Israeli policemen detain a right-wing Jewish activist at the Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem.

Only a few hundred far-rightist adherents of the Revava ("Multitude") had shown up by mid-morning for a march they had said would draw 10,000.

About a dozen were arrested. "We came here to show the world we are unable to pray even at our holiest place, the Temple Mount. But if Sharon thinks it will be as easy to expel Jews from Gaza as he has dealt with us today, he is mistaken," said protester Efraim Cohen (21).

"The struggle will continue," he said before being hustled away by Israeli plainclothes police. There was a brief scuffle and rightists shouted "Gestapo" at police.

Palestinian militants threatened to abandon a de facto ceasefire with Israel if right-wing Jews went ahead with the march. "If the Zionists defile al-Aqsa mosque, they will be planting the seeds of the third uprising," said Nizar Rayyan of the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Police kept the rightists well away from the Western Wall, a Jewish prayer site abutting the elevated shrine of two ancient mosques, to avoid any possible clash with Muslims praying there.

"Given assessments that such a move on the Temple Mount may spark a flare-up and disturbances from worshippers there, this (decision) is final and non-negotiable," Jerusalem police chief Ilan Franco told Army Radio.

The Jerusalem compound, housing the 1,300-year-old al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques, is Islam's third holiest site. The site is the most sacred for Jews, treasured as the spot where biblical King Solomon built a temple and where a second temple was razed by the Romans in 70 AD.