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Apr 16, 6:01 AM EDT

Israel police disperse riot at Jerusalem holy site

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JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli police stormed a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem on Wednesday and fired tear gas to disperse a riot by Palestinian Muslim worshippers, officials said.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the rioters hurled stones and firecrackers from atop the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. Rosenfeld said police then entered the site and dispersed the rioters with tear gas and other non-lethal means.

The compound is known to Muslims as the "Noble Sanctuary" and is Islam's third-holiest site. Israel captured the area along with the rest of east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war.

Clashes often erupt after Muslims finish their prayers at the site.

Jews typically pray below, at the Western Wall, but tensions have grown lately with an increased number of Jews arriving to pray at the Temple Mount as well.

Both sites remained open after Wednesday's disturbances, and Jews were flocking to the Western Wall to pray during the weeklong Passover holiday.

The site is ground zero in the territorial and religious conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It's gold-topped Dome of the Rock enshrines the rock where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Jews believe the rock may be where the holiest part of the two ancient temples stood about 2,000 years ago - and where religious Jews pray a third temple will one day be built. The site is so holy that Jews have traditionally refrained from praying on the hilltop, but attitudes among some Orthodox Jews have been evolving and there has been growing demand to allow Jews to pray there freely as well.

The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, and the Old City, as the capital of their future state. The status of the site remains perhaps the most sensitive and explosive issue in U.S.-brokered peace talks.

Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas' health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Kidra said three Palestinians were killed in a large explosion, which appeared to have been triggered by militants mishandling explosives. All three were members of the Hamas militant wing.

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