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Palestinians riot to protest synagogue reopening

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Palestinians protest synagogue
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Palestinians protest reopening of landmark synagogue in Jerusalem after 60 years
  • Officers disperse crowd by firing stun grenades; village elders help end riots elsewhere
  • 91 people wounded in clashes, Palestinian Red Crescent Society says
  • Palestinians angered by Israeli settlement plans in largely Arab East Jerusalem

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Palestinians hurled rocks and burned tires in several neighborhoods in East Jerusalem Tuesday to protest the reopening of a landmark synagogue after more than 60 years.

Officers dispersed the crowd by firing stun grenades in one area, and village elders helped end the riots in another, said police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.

At least seven people in the Mount of Olives neighborhood were wounded when police fired rubber bullets.

In all, 91 people were wounded in the clashes, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said.

About 3,000 officers were deployed in the city after the militant group Hamas declared Tuesday a "Day of Rage."

The group was protesting the reopening of the Hurva synagogue on Monday. However, rumors swirled that right-wing groups were planning to ascend the Temple Mount, where al-Aqsa Mosque is located.

Video: Clashes continue in Jerusalem

Senior Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, in a speech Monday in Syria, called on Palestinians to take to the street to protect Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian shrines. The Palestinian Authority suggested Israel was "preventing citizens from reaching the Old City ... to pray in al-Aqsa Mosque, as part of increasing provocative policies violating international law and human rights."

"Pay no attention to malicious slander," said Rabbi Yona Metzger, chief rabbi of Israel, told the Jewish news agency JTA on Monday. "All we are doing is resurrecting the Hurva that was destroyed 60 years ago. All the rumors that suggest we will later march on Temple Mount are just that -- rumors."

However, the incident is only the latest to ratchet up tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. The synagogue is located in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. The Old City also includes East Jerusalem, seen as Palestinians as the capital of their future state.

Israel claims sovereignty over all of Jerusalem since it took over East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 in the Six-Day war. The rededication has underlined Palestinian concerns that Israel is attempting to bring more Jews into East Jerusalem and drive Palestinians out, particularly as it comes on the heels of an Israeli announcement last week that 1,600 more housing units would be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The synagogue rededication, however, had been planned for months in advance, according to organizers.

In a statement Tuesday, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said it "strongly condemns recent measures taken by Israel in East Jerusalem, the latest of which has been the inauguration of a synagogue in the old city. PCHR holds Israel responsible for the escalation of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory."

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meeting in Madrid, Spain, with the Spanish minister of defense, said, "Israel will not allow extremists to dictate and force political arrangements.

"I have said this times before and I repeat: Israel is strong ... and must reach political arrangements out of this position," Barak said. "Lack of political negotiations will strengthen and encourage the extremists of both sides and the riots in Jerusalem today proves so. A political arrangement will only be achieved by direct negotiations."

Construction on the synagogue began in 1700, but halted, according to the Web site of Sacred Destinations, which describes itself as an educational and travel resource. It was restarted in 1836 and the synagogue was completed in 1856. The synagogue was destroyed by the Jordanian Arab Legion in 1948. Conservation and investigation of the ruins began in 1977.

Meshaal also warned the international community that Israel is "playing with fire" that could lead to a regional blowup.

Speaking to reporters Monday, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said there were American concerns "about the tensions regarding the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. And we are urging all parties to act responsibly and do whatever is necessary to remain calm."

At a memorial service Tuesday for late Israeli prime ministers and presidents, President Shimon Peres said: "We cannot afford to unravel the delicate fabric of friendship with the United States.

"Today, we are also at a decisive moment and we must decide without the determination of external parties. That is, decide that even in a time of threats we will not give up on peace. The heritage of our leaders guides us and our children as such."

Last month, protests erupted after the Israeli government announced it would include two West Bank religious shrines as part of a larger list of 150 Zionist heritage sites.

CNN's Kevin Flower and Michal Zippori contributed to this report.

 
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