On Friday evening Palestinian worshippers clashed with Israeli police at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City as weeks-long stresses between Israel and the Palestinians over Jerusalem rose again.
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service, 14 people were injured in the violence. It said most of the injuries were from metal bullets covered with rubber.
The conflicts were the latest in a deadly day that saw Israeli forces shoot and kill 2 Palestinians after 3 men opened fire on an Israeli base in the occupied West Bank.
They erupted when Israeli police expanded heavily as Muslims were performing evening prayers at Al Aqsa during the holy month of Ramadan. In video footage from the scene, it can be seen that worshippers throwing chairs, shoes and rocks toward the police and officers returning by opening fire. Israeli police also closed gates leading to Al Aqsa inside the walled Old City.
Following a long legal battle with Israeli settlers, dozens of Palestinians in an East Jerusalem neighbourhood are at risk of being removed and Palestinian protesters have fought with Israeli police in the city on a nightly basis since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
On the final Friday of Ramadan, tens of thousands of Palestinian worshippers crowded into Al Aqsa Mosque and many stayed on to protest in support of Palestinians facing removal from homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers.
As health restrictions mostly lifted following Israel’s swift Covid-19 vaccine campaign, worshippers huddled tightly together as they knelt in prayer on the tree-lined hilltop plateau containing the mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.
Continuing tensions in the city, which lies at the centre of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, were the focus of a Friday sermon given by Sheikh Tayseer Abu Sunainah.
“Our people will remain steadfast and patient in their homes, in our blessed land,” Abu Sunainah said of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah area who could be removed under a long-running legal case.
After the prayers, thousands remained on the compound to protest against the removals, with many waving Palestinian flags and singing a song common during Jerusalem protests: “With our soul and blood, we will redeem you, Aqsa”.
On Monday, Israel’s Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions.
Sheikh Jarrah’s residents are overwhelmingly Palestinian, but the neighbourhood also includes a site venerated by religious Jews as the tomb of an ancient high priest, Simon the Just.
The spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the removals, “if ordered and implemented, would violate Israel’s obligations under international law” on East Jerusalem territory it captured from neighbouring Jordan and which it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
“We call on Israel to immediately halt all forced evictions, including those in Sheikh Jarrah, and to cease any activity that would further contribute to a coercive environment and lead to a risk of forcible transfer,” spokesman Rupert Colville said on Friday.
Washington was “deeply concerned about the heightened tensions in Jerusalem,” said US State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter.
“As we head into a sensitive period in the days ahead, it will be critical for all sides to ensure calm and act responsibly to deescalate tensions and avoid violent confrontation,” Porter said.
Alarm at the potential evictions was expressed by the European Union, Kuwait and Jordan. By nightfall on Friday, scores of Israeli police in riot gear and about 100 protesters had gathered outside the eviction site.
Ayman Safadi, Jordanian Foreign Minister, said Jordan had given the Palestinian Authority documents that he said showed the Sheikh Jarrah Palestinians were the “legitimate owners” of their homes.
Safadi said in a foreign ministry statement on Twitter, Israel’s “provocative steps in occupied Jerusalem and violation of Palestinian rights, including the rights of the people of Sheikh Jarrah in their homes, is playing with fire.”
On Friday, Israel’s foreign ministry said Palestinians were “presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties as a nationalist cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem.” Palestinians denied the accusation.
Israeli-Palestinian disputes have broken out nightly in Sheikh Jarrah ahead of Monday’s court hearing.