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February 9, 2007

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Jerusalem 'tense' after clashes

BBC news transcript with photos
Transcript in the news of February 9, 2007 


>> If you're just joining us, then welcome to bbc world news. We are live in Jerusalem here. These pictures coming into us at al-Aqsa mosque. What we have here is something of a standoff between security forces of the Israeli government and Palestinian protesters who have gathered in some number down at the site of mocks where Israeli authorities have been carrying out what they call certain repairs to an earthen ramp leading to the hilltop compound which is known to Jews as temple mount. There has been a considerable amount of stone-throwing by the Palestinians who have gathered there in the course of the day, and the extra forces brought in, triple the number there were yesterday, were there to disperse that crowd. We've heard occasional gunshots in an effort to do precisely, that disperse the crowd. But interestingly the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya, only yesterday spelt out the need for protests and for Palestinians to, as he put it, rise up against the latest Israeli work taking place there. Now the Israeli authorities have promised that what they're trying to do is replace a ramp, a centuries-old ramp damaged two or three years ago now and that it would not affect or damage in any way the compound itself, but as we see, it's drawn a lot of protests. Palestinians are far from satisfied with that. I think we can now join Simon Williston, my colleague in Jerusalem. Simon, it looks pretty 45CC70D4.JPGunpleasant at the moment.

>> I think judging from the scenes that we've been seeing, clearly some kind of confrontation has broken out on the temple mount. There were fears of this today. Over the past week there's been increasing tension around the area and not just amongst Palestinians in the west bank and Gaza. There have been fears and editorials in newspapers all around the Arab world that the work that Israel says is simply a repair... Piece of repair work, repairing a ramp that goes up towards the temple mount compound that you can see in front of you there, the fear and the suggestions in some parts of the Arab world was that in some way Israel was trying to undermine that compound in some way. Now, a couple of things. There was a suggestion that we'd been hearing gunshots. I haven't heard that. What I've been hearing sounds to me like tear gas canisters being fired, and certainly we've seen the sort of telltale smoke you get from tear gas canisters. The Israeli security forces have taken quite a lot of measures over the past days and again this morning to limit the numbers of Palestinians going up there. For example, men under I think 45 were not being allowed into the area, and we'll simply have to see how it plays out. It's difficult to judge from the pictures we have now whether there is a widespread confrontation or whether we're seeing the fringes of a smaller one. 45CC7131.JPG

>> Thanks for the clarification on the gunshot fire or indeed, as you say, smoke canisters. Obviously the message is clear. They're trying clear the area and disperse protesters as quickly as possible.

>> I think that's right. I think obviously why there's so much concern and why these pictures will be flashing around the world as you talking is this is incredibly reminiscent of previous clashes upon this incredibly sensitive, holy site. People will remember in sent 200 when the then-opposition lead, Ariel Sharon, made it very highly publicized and a controversial visit. Severe clashes broke out which sparked in the following days and weeks even worse clashes and drew everybody in this region into the second intifada. So there is a lot of attention. We see another what looks like a tear gas grenade of some sort going off there. 45CC716C.JPG

>> It has its effect, doesn't it? We see people are moving out of that area pretty quickly.

>> People move out of the way, but I think it's also important, from what we can judge from the vantage point that we've got here, I think littarar to the conclusion that there are widespread some kind of smaller clash and we're just seeing the periphery of it. I know we have a team down in the area. We'll be trying to reach them and get them on air, but as I was saying, it's this extreme sensitivity of this holy site. These pictures will be flashing around the Arab world. There will be some commentators talking about an Israeli attack on a holy Muslim compound, and things will... The potential for tensions to rise and tempers to rise is enormous. 45CC719E.JPG

>> Of course, plenty of let's say interested parties, vested interest in making the most of this.

>> I think there are. It's really all very sad. What we're seeing from this angle, we were seeing shortly before the western wall, which is the main Jewish religious site, and this to me, what we're seeing now looks a little bit like the temple mount compound. Up on the temple mount there is an enormous flat area. That's the western wall again, the Jewish religious site. It looks as though that's been cleared. Presumably maybe there was some stone-throwing there. There is this enormous flat area the size of several football pitches, which houses the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site to the Muslims, and also perhaps the more familiar, the golden dome of the rock. I think what we're seeing there, it looks to me like one corner of this compound, and you can see significant amounts of it looks to me tear gas and some kind of smoke grenade that Israeli security forces are firing there to clear the area. 45CC71E8.JPG

>> It does look also... Sorry to interrupt, Simon. It looks as if the police are moving further into that area. They seem to be doing what they can personally to push people back.

>> I think they are. Just judging, I've seen a few clashes of this type over the years, and it looks relatively serious. They are clearly in a very sort of, you know, active position. They're moving around quickly. They're using tear gas and some kind of smoke grenade it would seem, possibly stun grenades I'm being told by some of our people down there just to kind of... These things just cause a shock wave and will tend to force people away from the media area. That is the western wall. That's the western wall, which again, looks to have been cleared. That little gate you see leads into the tunnels along the ancient section of the western wall, and it looks like a religious Jewish man there with the traditional covering over his head being asked to stay away by a security officer. 45CC7228.JPG

>> It's a real sit-up, isn't it? We've been focused so heavily on internal Palestinian rivalries and difficulties, and suddenly a moment of some relief and jubilation for Palestinians that maybe they can form a government of national unity, and then this is the focus straightaway again, and where the real issue lies between Israelis and Palestinians.

>> Well, I think that's right. There are plenty of people here, plenty of analysts saying the two are not unconnected. Now, these things are very complex, and one wouldn't rush to judge on this, but clearly the sanctity of the al Aqsa compound is something that all Muslims and all Palestinians will agree on. It is something that fatah, lams, all the -- hamas, all the various Muslim groups around the middle east will agree on. It is something that draws them together. That is something that Israel is aware of and critics of Israel say they should not be tampering with it, even if it is, in fact, only a simple piece of repair work that needs to be done. Now, actually, it looks like someone who has been injured is being brought out. What we're looking at now is what this current dispute is all about. That walkway, the temporary walkway leading from the western wall of that compound leading up towards the al-Aqsa mosque. It is that wooden bridge that the Israelis say needs repairing. The walkway underneath it was damaged during some bad weather a few years ago. So it looks as though someone injured is being brought out. But it is that area, the real point of the current problem.

>> Simon, thank you very much indeed for talking us through the situation there down on the ground in Jerusalem. We've seen one were to stretches now. I think it's almost inevitable there will be casualties as a result of this. We saw one man on a stretcher. Another stretcher being rushed across the scene there. We've had a lot of firing now, mostly as tear gas canister, stun grenades possibly, well, but the media able to get up pretty close to where the excavation was. That's the earthen mound we're talking about. This is what is causing such offence to the Palestinians who are not happy at the Israeli work taking place there on what they consider very much their religious site. Well, with me here in the studio is fiona wood who has been picking up on what's been going on in the course of the day. Perhaps a straightforward sequence of events. 45CC72C7.JPG

>> It's ironic we appear to be getting some good news for want of a better way of putting it from Gaza of course with the peace deal that's been signed in Mecca in Saudi Arabia bringing together the two Palestinian factions there. We hear about that and then the next thing it appears there's trouble -- not for the first time, it has to be said -- in Jerusalem at this very holy site, holy to the Israelis and also to the Palestinians, to the Muslims. This, in fact, is the third... it's considered to be the third most important holy site in the Muslim world. As I said, it has been the source of previous problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is obviously a flash point, this walk way. The Israelis, as we heard from Simon, have simply been saying that work needs to be done to repair something that went wrong and was damaged about two years ago. The problem is that as far as the Palestinian community is concerned, any work, any problem that comes up in that area is always going to be a flash point between the two sides, and this is what appears to have happened again. 45CC7310.JPG

>> And also no surprise probably from either side that this is the outcome because clearly Israeli security forces have increased in number considerably today, haven't they? We've heard leaders from the Palestinian communities saying, come on, go up there and protest.

>> It appears that everybody was expecting problems to happen. As you say, the Israelis were prepared for this, and as we can see now...

>> Security forces are moving in, in some strength. They have been firing tear gas, and it looks as though some profit testers have dispersed. Obviously we're getting reports of injuries coming in, and even though there were preparations made for this because the Israelis were aware this work had to be undertaken and they were very aware Palestinians were being called on the go protest at the scenes, despite the preparations, we are now seeing problems and it could be here that the tear gas has affected people. We just don't know obviously looking at these ambulances and vehicles. It's impossible to tell. 45CC734F.JPG

>> We have a broader spread there of the picture of the scene. I think we also have plan of al-Aqsa mosque, which we can lay out for you on the screen just now. Here it is. It gives us some idea as to the layout there. We can see the dome of the rock. Al-Aqsa mosque down near the middle of the picture there also. I mean, no surprise it's a source of tension. It means so much to both sides. They're having to live cheek by jowl on that one.

>> It is a huge source of tension. It's mainly unresolved over the years. You may remember that I think as has been mentioned, in the year 2000, aerial that robe -- Ariel Sharon went to the site. That again was a big flash point. Eventually that led to the second intifada, and now again we're seeing clashes over the same area, the same problems. It's an unresolved issue, and clearly one that's very unsettling for both sides. 45CC7391.JPG

>> Interesting remark here from the al Aqsa society's own media department. Sheikh khalil Mohammed said a gates that Muslims have been blocked from using it. It's the right of Muslims to use it. If we follow the Israeli orders and don't use it, the Israelis will say we've deserted the mosque. You can see the politics behind it.

>> You can see the politics behind it quite clearly. It resembles a claim for territory, if you like. There's the fact this is being said this is very protective of a certain way of entry onto that site, and the fact that this is being regarded in this kind of way is clearly a sign that the Palestinian faction has been involved in this and they want to do everything they can to preserve the integrity of an area that they see as being so important within the Muslim world. Any indication that they're backing off or backing down in some way by not using this gate quite clearly in this particular instance or by regarding listening to what the Israelis have to say about keeping away from certain parts of the site, they haven't gone down very well in the past, and the Palestinians will apparently do what they can to preserve the integrity of the very specific walkways and areas that they are allowed to go to on that side. 45CC73E9.JPG

>> Now, we understand that around about 200 police actually moved on to the hilltop compound there, the sanctuary. And there are several dozen possibly protesters who have barricaded themselves inside al-Aqsa mosque itself.

>> In f that is a -- if that is the case, that's a very worrying development because it's one thing when you have a number of protesters outside in the open air, if you like, because obviously the security forces can use dispersing equipment like tear gas and that can do something about that to try and remove people from the site. But it sounds as though this was rather a well-organised plan. If a group has barricaded itself within parts of the actual site on the inside rather than the outside, then, of course, we're going to get into something of a possible siege situation, and that's going to provoke all sorts of possible problems.

>> We see the odd rushes of troops or armed police moving in here and there, one or two casualties coming out, as well. You were talking in the beginning, Fiona, about the certain irony that in Mecca, the holiest site of all, Muslims have just cracked what looks to be possibly a landmark deal, possibly, and then on their third holiest site here the realities of just how in a way limited even that Mecca deal was. It's just a very, very starting point of what is a pain my long process.

>> That was quite clearly the starting point for a very specific problem in a certain area. We're talking about Gaza there. There has been a particular problem within the make-up of the Palestinian government between two factions, fatah and hamas, essentially in the last few weeks slugging it out for power. I don't think there's another way of putting it. More than 100 Palestinians have died in the violence there, and this deal in Mecca was seen as a way of resolving that problem. Potentially it has been resolved. Now as soon as that news comes through, we're now going to Jerusalem where we can see another part of the overall problem between the Palestinians and the Israelis rearing its head yet again. This is another one of those apparently intractable problems between the two sides. 45CC7473.JPG

>> Our camera is trying desperately to track what looked like at least a community leader there down on the spot. Well, I'm glad to say also for us Matthew price, our correspondent, is also down there on the spot. Matthew, we're trying gauge a sense of the scale of this. Perhaps you can talk us through it.

>> David, I've been around the old city for the last three or four hours. I think it's fair to say that a very large Israeli police presence has managed to keep an awful lot of the Palestinian and Muslim protesters who wanted to come to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque today, he's managed to keep an awful lot of those people away. We were on the other side of the old stay short of while ago in lace called Nablus gate. There were a couple of what looked like Israeli tear gas canisters let off or Israeli sound bombs which are designed to try to disperse crowds. They seem to have done the job. When I talk about crowds over there at the Nablus gate, we're talking about at maximum 200 people thereabouts. I saw a couple of relatively young people being arrested and taken away by the police. I've just arrived outside the place where you're getting your pictures from now close to the... what Jews call the temple mount, what Muslims call the noble sanctuary. As we understand it, according to Israeli police, there are several hundred protesters inside the temple mount, the noble sanctuary compound at the 45CC74CD.JPGmoment. They have thrown, we're told by the Israel Israeli police, stones, and police have responded. While I've been here, I've heard one or two blasts from inside. I imagine based on what we saw on the other side of the old city that will either be a tear gas canister being used by the Israeli police or it will be a percussion bomb designed to disperse the crowd. At the moment there is a heavy police presence here just down to my left here, the western wall plaza has been closed. This is the holiest site to Jews. It's been closed to members of the public. Large numbers of police there trying to sort out this problem.

>> As you say, Matthew, if you have anyone trying to barricade themselves in, this is not going to end easily, is it?

>> No, I think it's important to look at the underlying causes of all this.) So last Tuesday I was here when diggers started work that was asked for by the Israel municipality to try, as the Israelis say, carry out some improvement works on the ramp way that leads up to this holy area for Muslims, the site where Jews believe that the temple, the Jewish temple, the first and second temples were once built. It's a very contentious religious site. The Israeli archaeologists and municipality began work on this site a few days ago. Much to the anger of Muslims. Now, why did it raise their anger? Not so much because of the precise nature of the work I think but because of how contested this city is. We're in the old city of Jerusalem. It's in east Jerusalem. It's an area that was captured by Israeli soldiers during the 1967 middle east war and which has been occupied by Israel since then for the last four decades. And what many people here, many commentators are seeing is an expression of is not so much Muslims, Palestinians trying to assert their right to pray on this site. It is actually an expression, a battle really over who has sovereignty over this part of Jerusalem. And therefore when you look at the underlying causes of what's going on today, I think it's fair to say that the Israeli police based on past experience will eventually manage to move on the majority if not all of these protesters, and at the moment things don't seem to be particularly violent around me. But at the same time, the underlying causes of what's going on here are going to be a lot more difficult to sort out.

>> You say the work started on Tuesday. Do you have any idea how long that work was expected to go on for? I know al Aqsa society actually called on Palestinians to come to morning prayers in the area today specifically.

>> Yeah, absolutely. From what I understand, eight months is the scheduled duration of this work. It's happening just a short distance to my left here, and very close to the pictures that you're seeing at the moment. So eight months it's scheduled, but I think the issue here is less about the work itself and how long that work takes, and from what I've seen, what Israeli archaeologists have told me, the work is going on outside the temple mount. It is not touching the walls of the temple mount, which has been one of the contentions that many Muslim leaders have made. From what I've seen that is pretty accurate. It is work going on outside this most sensitive of areas. The big issue, as I said a moment ago, is that the Palestinians it seems, it appears to be a reexertion of Israeli control over what, is let's remember, an occupied city, which the status of which still has to be sorted out through international agreement and the agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. That is why while Israelis say this is just a ramp, it is just repair work we're doing, this is why Palestinians and Muslims around the Muslim world remember feel that this is such sensitive work and are so angry about it. That is why what is happening here, while on the face of it is a very small-scale thing, it does risk inflaming passions around the Muslim world. We've heard this week that king Abdullah of Jordan has asked the Israelis to stop this work. Other Arab leaders around the Muslim world have, as well.

>> Okay, Matthew, we have to move on. Thank you so much for joining us down there on the ground. It may be a point of principal. Simon Wilson in Jerusalem, Simon math, you saying this is aural about a point of principle about the Israeli control over a Muslim-Palestinian area, but if this is going to go on for eight months, there is all sorts of scope for more trouble to come, isn't there? 45CC75FA.JPG

>> Well, I think there is, although do remember that things can be delayed, things can be frozen, people can have talks. A lot depends on the kind of underlying situation at the time. If you think back to September 2000 and the clashes that everyone will remember which sparked off the second Palestinian intifada, that was a time of extreme tension between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, the situation is by no means good at the moment, but actually, the conflict, many people believe, has reached a stage where there is a kind of natural calming of the situation. It would just be interesting to see in the coming days and weeks whether this flares it up again or whether, as Matthew was suggesting, it may be smaller clash which will not lead any further repercussions. We can see here. You're seeing the same shot I'm seeing. This is an area just to the south of where we were looking before on the road to the east Jerusalem suburb. It looks as though a few young men are throwing stones at police. They're responding with what looks like tear gas canisters. 45CC7645.JPG

>> Simon, thank you very much for that. Let's get a sense of the scale of this police operation. Joining me on the line is a spokesman for the Israeli police. Mr. Rosenfeld, can you give us an idea, a, how many men have you brought into the area, and what essentially is the brief?

>> After setting the situation last night, police in and around east Jerusalem, more than 2,500 police, are in full preparations for the possibility of riot in and around east Jerusalem. And at the moment police are continuing to work inside and around east Jerusalem in order to prevent the riots which began at 12:00 the crowds.

* This transcription on this site is occasionally not without minor errors.


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