Photographer tells the story behind the tear gas scene from Jerusalem's 'Day of Rage'

Photographer tells the story behind the tear gas scene from Jerusalem's 'Day of Rage'

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - When Muslim elders called for a "Day of Rage" on Friday to protest at new Israeli security measures at Jerusalem's holiest site, photographer Ammar Awad knew where he had to be.

A native of Jerusalem who has covered the city for Reuters for 17 years, Awad headed to Ras al-Amud, directly across the valley from the Old City, from where the Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock stand out in the near distance.

Knowing there were likely to be clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian worshippers, and that Muslims intended to pray in the street outside, he climbed up to the roof of a nearby mosque to gain a higher vantage point.

"I know all these areas and the people know me, so it helps," said Awad, 36, explaining how he managed to gain access to the mosque, which was shut by the imam to ensure that the faithful held their prayers outside.

"I was on the roof and took lots of pictures of the men praying in the street, with the Old City and the Dome of the Rock in the background," he explained.

"After they finished praying, they started shouting 'Allah wa-Akbar' and some were chanting "I will sacrifice myself for al Aqsa" in Arabic. The Israeli police started to explode sound bombs to disperse the crowd.

"I was going to come down, but I decided to stay and see what more pictures I could get."

As the sound bombs erupted, many of those who had been praying started to run. Others were still completing their prayers as the scene turned chaotic.

Awad fired off 20 frames as a tear gas canister was unleashed on the crowd. The light from the blast lit the scene, highlighting the colors as scores of men cowered from the bang.

"I was lucky to get the picture," he said.

"As soon as I saw it, I knew it was the picture of the day. The men were finishing prayers, there's al Aqsa and the Old City in the background - it told the whole story."

Since Israel decided to install the metal detectors on Sunday, after two Israeli policemen were killed by attackers who had smuggled weapons into the holy compound, there have been nightly clashes near the Old City.

Awad has followed those events, capturing the raw scenes of running battles between Palestinian youth and security forces.

"It's been an emotional week and an emotional day," he said.

(Writing by Luke Baker; editing by Mark Heinrich)