Israeli Security Halts Skirmishes on 'March to Jerusalem'

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli security forces battled Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem Friday, with reports of one Palestinian killed and dozens wounded.

The clashes came during demonstrations marking Land Day and the Global March on Jerusalem. Palestinians and Israeli Arabs hold the annual event to protest Israel's land policies.

The skirmishes began after Muslim prayers, Friday. The marches drew smaller than expected crowds on Israel's borders and in Jerusalem.

Israeli forces in riot gear responded to a number skirmishes in Jerusalem. At the Old City's Damascus Gate, several hundred Palestinian Arabs gathered for an illegal march, but it was broken up by Israeli riot police.

Other flash points included Gaza's Erez Crossing, Bethlehem, and the Kalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem.

Dozens of Palestinians threw stones at riot police. Police responded with tear gas and a machine with high frequency sound waves and "skunk," a foul-smelling liquid. 

Palestinian sources reported politician Mustafa Barghouti was hit in the head with an Israeli tear gas canister. But the IDF disputed that claim, saying he was injured in a brawl over who would lead the protest march. 

On Jerusalem's Temple Mount, police barred Muslim men between the ages 5 to 50. In the past, Palestinian Arabs have used the Temple Mount to throw stones on people praying at the Western Wall after Friday prayers.

Marches were planned in London, Washington, D.C., and other capitals around the world.

The organizers stated on their website that the purpose of the demonstrations was to "... demand freedom for Jerusalem and its people and put an end to the apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and Judaization policies affecting the people, land, and sanctity of Jerusalem."

But in an op-ed, Israel's Ambassador to the U.N. wrote that when it came to "Judaizing Jerusalem," the "accusations came about 3,000 years too late."

"The truth is that under Israeli rule, Jerusalem has enjoyed unprecedented prosperity and equal rights for all of its inhabitants," he wrote.

"Since its unification by Israel in 1967, the city has thrived under the values of tolerance and freedom," he continued.

"For the first time in centuries, holy sites that were once sealed off along religious lines are now permanently open for worship by all peoples, a principle that is cemented in Israeli law," he said.

Perhaps reflecting changes within Syria, demonstrators only gathered in Damascus, not on its border with Israel. Last June, several died in clashes with Israeli soldiers when thousands tried to breach the border.

Critics of the march noted that radical Islamic groups helped organize and fund the marches, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Iran.

Middle East expert Daniel Pipes told CBN News, the marches marked a new strategy.

"To embarrass Israel, to make life difficult," he said. "I mean, how are you going to stop a large number of people marching?"

"So I think it's indicative of a new way of expressing hostility and trying to deligitimate and eventually eliminate Israel," he said.

Israeli intelligence sources say Iran is directly helping organize the marches. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei openly declared his support of the Global March to Jerusalem.

Critics also point out the irony of nations like Syria and Iran accusing Israel of human rights abuse.

Yet, just across the border, the Syrian regime has killed thousands of its own people. And Iran is threatening to execute Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani because he refuses to deny his faith in God.

*Originally published on March 30, 2012

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