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MIDEAST 02-09

Israeli workers dig up with bulldozers a walkway to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in east Jerusalem's Old City Thursday.

Excavations incite violence

Israeli riot police hurling stun grenades fought crowds of stone-throwing Palestinians outside Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine, Friday in a clash triggered by Israeli excavations near the site that have drawn sharp condemnations across the Arab world.

The confrontation after Friday prayers, beamed live across the Middle East by satellite news channels, ended with no serious injuries, but it raised concerns that the protests could spread to the West Bank and Gaza Strip and inflame religious passions throughout the region.

The Israeli excavation, in preparation for construction of a new approach ramp for visitors to the hilltop compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, has become the latest flashpoint of the struggle for the contested area — ground zero of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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