JERUSALEM, OCT. 8 -- Israeli police and stone-throwing Palestinians clashed on the Old City's Temple Mount today, producing the worst bloodshed in East Jerusalem since it was captured by Israel in 1967. Israeli authorities said 19 Arabs were killed when the police opened fire, and hospitals reported more than 150 wounded.
Israeli leaders said they feared the violence, which raged across sites sacred to both Moslems and Jews during Sukkot, a Jewish holiday, could spark a new upsurge of the Arab rebellion in the occupied territories or draw Israel into the Persian Gulf crisis. Late today, Arab rioting was reported in the Gaza Strip, and hospitals reported two Palestinians killed in clashes there with the army.
Israeli radio said two tourists and 11 policemen were injured by stones. Police Commissioner Yaacov Terner said 22 Jewish civilians suffered minor injuries.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III told reporters in Washington that the United States did not have enough information to assess blame, "but it is fair to say that Israel needs to be better prepared and able to exercise restraint in handling disturbances of this nature."
U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar said he was "greatly dismayed by the bloodshed and by what appeared to have been an excessive use of force by the Israeli authorities." In Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned that the shootings could "lead to grave consequences" in the region -- a statement reflecting Egyptian fears of a possible outbreak of Arab-Israeli hostilities at a time when Mubarak is leading Arab opposition to Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
Police said a crowd of about 3,000 Palestinians rained hundreds of stones on Jews praying at the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, and attacked and burned a police station on the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount, known to Arabs as Haram Sharif, overlooks the Western Wall and holds the Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock mosques. It is the third-holiest site in Islam.
Palestinian leaders said the crowd had assembled, in part through clerics' appeals and in part spontaneously, to defend the Moslem sites from a group of Jewish extremists who had announced plans to demonstrate on the Temple Mount this morning. The Palestinians said the police attacked them after they began chanting slogans, and that the Palestinians began throwing stones at the Western Wall only after several Arabs had been killed.
Arab witnesses also charged that armed Jewish civilians joined police, firing on bystanders as they scrambled for shelter in the historic mosques. Police did not immediately confirm or deny these reports.
The Israelis "took the area of Al Aqsa, and they made it the field of war," said Hassan Taboub, secretary general of Jerusalem's Islamic Higher Council.
The veteran Jewish mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, said, "An attack on a Jewish holy site cannot be countenanced any more than an attack on a Christian or a Moslem holy site." He added: "I have deep apprehension about the uses I expect Saddam Hussein will make of this." Saddam, president of Iraq, has sought to portray his conflict with the nations who have opposed his invasion of Kuwait as a holy war on behalf of all Moslems.
The incident was the most severe yet in the 34-month-old intifada, or Arab uprising in the occupied territories.
More than three hours after police finally restored order on the Temple Mount, Arab ambulances were still pulling up to the doors of the huge Al Aqsa Mosque to retrieve wounded Palestinians who had taken refuge inside. The pavement all around the mount was smeared with blood and littered with stones, bullet casings and spent tear-gas cannisters. The acrid odor of tear gas was still in the air.
Near the western entrance to the site, a stone prayer niche that stood in the line of fire between police and demonstrators was stained with a dozen handprints, which witnesses said were made by young Arab men with their own blood. Crimson handprints also marked the white marble foundation of the Dome of the Rock, which houses a stone from which, Moslems believe, the Prophet Mohammed ascended for a view of heaven.
Palestinian journalists said tonight that one of those killed was the imam, or chief religious leader, of Al Aqsa Mosque, Sheik Fayez Abu Sanina, but the report could not immediately be confirmed with Israeli officials.
The violence occurred on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, one of three annual dates of pilgrimage by Jews to the Western Wall. The wall, which constitutes one side of the Temple Mount, is the only remaining vestige of the ancient Jewish temple that was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70.
For several years, the holiday has been a source of tension between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem because of attempts by a group of Jewish extremists, who call themselves the Temple Mount Faithful, to ascend to the site and lay a foundation stone for a new Jewish temple that would replace the Arab mosques. This year, police obtained a court order barring the group from bringing the foundation stone to the Temple Mount, but they said they would nevertheless visit the site this morning.
The group's announcement prompted Moslem leaders in Jerusalem, including the muezzin of Al Aqsa Mosque, to call on Moslems to come to the mosques to "defend" them from the Temple Mount Faithful and its fiery leader, Gershom Salomon. "They wanted to allow Salomon and his people to pray in the Aqsa Mosque and Moslems were willing to die without permitting this prayer," Taboub said.
Police said Salomon and about 50 followers had not arrived at the Temple Mount when the violence broke out. Police commissioner Terner said that after an incident early this morning in which Christian tourists were accosted outside Al Aqsa by Moslems waiting for Salomon, police decided to close off the entire Temple Mount to non-Moslems for the day.
As several thousand Moslems gathered near the mosques, thousands of Jews were assembling for holiday prayers at the Western Wall, only a few dozen yards away. Between the two crowds, both charged with emotion, were about 40 members of the Israeli border police, a paramilitary force that has been accused of brutality by human rights groups several times in the past.
Police Minister Ronnie Milo and other Israeli politicians charged tonight that Palestinian political and clerical leaders used Salomon's planned demonstration as a pretext to orchestrate a major incident of violence near the Islamic holy places. The Palestinians' intention, the Israelis charged, was to create a provocation that would divert attention from the Persian Gulf crisis to the Arab-Israeli conflict and undermine the U.S.-led alliance against Iraq's Hussein.
As evidence for the theory, Milo said police had discovered caches of stones and flammable material on the Temple Mount prepared before the riot. He also said police arrested Faisal Husseini, the most prominent Palestinian political leader in East Jerusalem, on the mount on suspicion of incitement.
Husseini and other Palestinian leaders have strongly criticized the deployment of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, and Islamic leaders in Jerusalem, including the imam of Al Aqsa Mosque, have delivered sermons calling on Saddam to "liberate" Jerusalem from Israeli rule. Moslems have repeatedly called for recapture of East Jerusalem since Israel seized it in 1967.
Palestinian activists denied the Israeli charges, saying police had brought about the tragedy by tolerating Salomon's activities, then using excessive force against the Palestinian demonstrators.
Police Chief Superintendent Shaher Elon said in an interview on the scene with Western reporters this afternoon that police did not know why the violence began. "We can't find the spark that started it," he said. "It happened suddenly, but we don't know the reason why."
Elon said the trouble started after 10:30 a.m., when about 2,000 Palestinians emerged from the mosques. Police later said 3,000 people were involved. Elon said one group headed toward the northern end of the mount, where they attacked and burned a police station. The other group headed toward the western edge, where they began throwing stones onto the crowd of Jewish worshipers assembled below, at the Western Wall.
The Arab demonstrators then barricaded the heavy wooden gates at the entrances to the Temple Mount, Elon said, making it difficult for police reinforcements to get in. He said it took about 15 minutes before police forced their way in and drove the stone throwers out of range of the Western Wall.
Down below, Jewish worshipers fled across the large plaza that connects the Western Wall to the Old City's Jewish quarter.
An Arab journalist, who compiled reports from a number of Palestinian witnesses, gave a different account. He said about 1,000 Palestinian demonstrators gathered outside Al Aqsa Mosque at the western end of the Temple Mount and began chanting slogans. Police stationed at the nearby gate ordered the crowd to disperse, he said, and when they refused, police began firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
According to the journalist's account, which was corroborated by an Arab witness, a Palestinian youth was shot in the head and killed in the initial police volleys. When word of the death spread through the people assembled around the mount and in the mosques, furious attacks were mounted on the police, including the assault on the police post.
The journalist said that as the rioting raged, the Islamic mufti of Jerusalem, Sheik Saad-ed-Dine Alami, broadcast appeals over the loudspeakers of Al Aqsa for Palestinians "to defend the mosque." Palestinian witnesses said the clashes continued for nearly an hour, and that police fired on Arab ambulances attempting to evacuate wounded. One Arab ambulance at the scene was streaked with blood.
Speaking on Israeli radio, Terner apologized for an incident in which police fired tear gas into East Jerusalem's Mokassed Hospital, where many of the injured were taken. An Arab member of Israel's parliament, Hashem Mahameed, earlier reported the incident and said he had been beaten by police.
This afternoon, the aged mufti sat in a chair in front of Al Aqsa and held out a handful of spent bullet casings to show journalists. The white-bearded sheik, who heads the Islamic Council and is Jerusalem's highest Moslem leader, sobbed as he described the day's events in broken English. "The soldiers are killing us," Alami said. "While we are praying they are shooting and killing us."
In Jordan, angry Palestinians poured out on the streets of several refugee camps, vowing to avenge the deaths in Jerusalem, and security forces went on alert in fear of uncontrolled fallout from seething sentiment in the Palestinian settlements on the outskirts of Amman.
Palestinian and Jordanian activist sources in Amman said they anticipated organized riots Tuesday across the city, and officials met late tonight to avert violence.
Correspondent Nora Boustany in Amman contributed to this article.