JERUSALEM (AP) – Palestinian teenagers threw rocks at Israeli police and attacked a Canadian tourist bus Saturday in a new wave of protests against ongoing Israeli construction 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.
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 gathered nearby. Some of the rocks smashed the windows of cars parked on the side of the road. They also lit an Israeli flag on fire.
The police, some on horseback and others in riot gear, responded by firing tear gas to disperse the protesters. 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 tourist Dave Wood. “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, said Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben Ruby. No one was injured in the incidents Saturday, he said. “We expect during today there will be some more (protests),” Ben Ruby 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 an effort to prevent a new wave of fighting.
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.
There were also protests in West Bank towns and in the northern Israeli-Arab town of Nazareth, and there were fears the violence could escalate.
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 Mohammad 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.
“We have nothing to hide and yet extremist elements with a hateful agenda have cynically provoked violence by deliberately spreading mistruths about what we’re doing,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.
Israeli officials accused Palestinians of distorting the construction project as a way to rally their people against the Jewish state to distract them from their internal problems.
Protests also broke out across the Middle East, with demonstrations in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon on Friday.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Jordan’s King Abdullah II called for Israel to halt the construction.
Malaysia, which chairs the 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference, urged the international community to intervene immediately to stop the “illegal activities.” “We denounce this blatant act of provocation and the complete disregard for the sanctity of the holy mosque,” Malaysia’s foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday. “This act will ignite the feelings of Muslims all over the world and is in fact a retrogressive step in the efforts to achieve peace in the region.”
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, also called for Israel to halt work on the ramp.