Palestinian worshippers, Israeli police clash amid tensions over east Jerusalem neighbourhood
Palestinian worshippers clashed with Israeli police at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday evening, and Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians and wounded a third after the men opened fire on a base in the occupied West Bank earlier in the day.
It was the latest in a series of violent confrontations amid soaring tensions over an east Jerusalem neighbourhood.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said dozens were wounded in clashes with police at Al-Aqsa Mosque and elsewhere in Jerusalem.
An Israeli police spokesman said three officers were hurt in clashes at the mosque.
Palestinian media outlets showed rows of Israeli security forces lined up in the area outside the mosque, while an AFP correspondent saw smoke rising from the area.
Dozens of Palestinians in an east Jerusalem neighbourhood are at risk of being evicted following a long legal battle with Israeli settlers, and Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli police in the city on a nightly basis since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The tensions have radiated across the region, with neighbouring Jordan warning Israel against further “provocative” steps, and Iran seizing on the sensitivities around Jerusalem and encouraging the violence.
Israeli police said three attackers fired on the base near the northern West Bank town of Jenin. The Border Police and an Israeli soldier opened fire in response, killing two of the men and wounding a third, who was evacuated to a hospital.
A national holiday in Israel and Iran
Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for more violence in the coming days.
Sunday night is “Laylat al-Qadr” or the “Night of Destiny”, the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshippers will gather for intense nighttime prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, a flashpoint holy site sacred to Muslims and to Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.
Sunday night is also the start of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in which Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city. On Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions.
Israel's archenemy Iran was meanwhile marking its own Quds (Jerusalem) Day on Friday. The national holiday typically features anti-Israel protests and fiery speeches by Iranian leaders predicting Israel's demise.
“The downward and declining movement of the Zionist regime has begun and will not stop," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised address. He called for continuing armed “resistance” in the Palestinian Territories and urged Muslim nations to support it.
This year, Ramadan has coincided with an uptick in Israeli-Palestinian violence focused on Jerusalem, where Palestinian protesters have repeatedly clashed with Israeli police over restrictions on outdoor gatherings at the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City.
On Thursday, Israeli forces arrested a Palestinian suspected of carrying out a drive-by shooting earlier this week in the West Bank that killed an Israeli and wounded two others.
On Wednesday, Israeli troops shot and killed a 16-year-old Palestinian during a confrontation near the West Bank city of Nablus. The military said several Palestinians had thrown firebombs toward soldiers.
In recent days, protesters have scuffled with police and settlers over the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in east Jerusalem. Several Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah have been embroiled in the long-running legal battle with Israeli settler groups trying to acquire property in the neighbourhood north of the Old City.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza — territories the Palestinians want for their future state — in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognised internationally and views the entire city as its capital.
The Palestinians view east Jerusalem — which includes major holy sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims — as their capital, and its fate is one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict.
US and Jordan warn against eviction threat
The United States called Friday for de-escalation in Jerusalem, and warned against carrying out the threatened eviction of Palestinian families.
"We're deeply concerned about the heightened tensions in Jerusalem," said deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter.
She said it was "critical" to "de-escalate tensions" and avoid any unilateral steps that could worsen the situation – such as "evictions, settlement activity and demolition".
Porter said the State Department was concerned in particular about the "potential eviction of Palestinian families in Silwan neighbourhood and Sheikh Jarrah".
She noted that some Palestinian families targeted for eviction have "lived in their home for generations".
Neighbouring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994 and is the custodian of Al-Aqsa, weighed in on Friday, saying “Israel's continuation of its illegal practices and provocative steps" in the city is a “dangerous game”.
“Building and expanding settlements, confiscating lands, demolishing homes and deporting Palestinians from their homes are illegal practices that perpetuate the occupation and undermine the chances of achieving a just and comprehensive peace, which is a regional and international necessity," Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi tweeted.
The Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has egged on the violence, and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired rockets in support of the protesters.
Earlier this week, the shadowy commander of Hamas' armed wing, Mohammed Deif, released his first public statement in seven years, in which he warned Israel it would pay a “heavy price” if it evicts Palestinians from their homes.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)
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