Violence flares up in tense East Jerusalem

JERUSALEM — An Israeli security guard posted to protect Jewish settlers killed a Palestinian on Wednesday in East Jerusalem, setting off street clashes between stone-throwing youths and riot police that reached the compound of the al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City.

The violence drew attention to the role of private security guards in volatile areas of East Jerusalem, where Jewish nationalists have moved into homes in Palestinian neighborhoods, stoking tensions. Civil rights advocates warned that the guards, who work for private firms, are operating outside the rules of engagement that bind police.

A police spokesman said the guard told investigators he fired into the air after his vehicle was blocked with garbage bins and stoned from surrounding rooftops.

The flare-up came amid a looming crisis in U.S.-backed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians over Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. An Israeli moratorium on new building in West Bank settlements is set to expire Sunday, and the Palestinians have warned that if the freeze is not extended, they will withdraw from the negotiations.

The trouble began before dawn in the neighborhood of Silwan — under the walls of the Old City — where about 400 Jewish settlers live among 30,000 Palestinians.

Residents and police said a confrontation developed between local youths and the security guard, who was patrolling in a car. Such incidents are common in the neighborhood, where tensions have risen in recent months since the announcement of plans by city hall to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes to make way for a park.

Hanan Odeh, who lives nearby, said that before the incident there was stone-throwing and a loud argument between Israelis and local youths. Later, she said, she heard a burst of automatic gunfire and saw a fleeing man, limping, who collapsed on the stairs under her house. He was identified as Samer Sarhan, 32, a father of five.

Sarhan's funeral triggered clashes across East Jerusalem. Stone-throwing youths battled police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades. At the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount, riot police charged in to disperse youths who had pelted them with stones, the police spokesman said.

Police said nine Israelis were injured in the violence, including one who was stabbed. In addition, three vehicles, including a police car, were torched, and two cars were overturned.