‘The powder keg is burning’: Riots break out at Jerusalem’s holiest site

Jerusalem: Riots have broken out inside a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site, as protesters angered by threatened evictions clashed with security forces after weeks of worsening violence.

Officers fired tear gas and stun grenades and protesters hurled stones and other objects at police.

Police said protesters threw stones from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound onto an adjoining roadway.

Palestinians reported stun grenades fired into the mosque compound, with dozens injured.

The site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is considered the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. The compound is the emotional epicentre of the conflict and has been centre stage for Israel-Palestinian violence in the past.

Earlier police barred Jews from visiting the site on Monday, which Israelis mark as Jerusalem Day as it is the anniversary of Israel taking control of East Jerusalem.

The police decision came hours before a planned march by hardline Israeli nationalists through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, an annual event widely perceived as a provocative display of Jewish hegemony over the contested city.

Police have allowed the flag-waving parade to take place despite growing concerns that it could further fan the flames.

East Jerusalem tensions have spilled over into clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians around al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest mosque, at the climax of the Ramadan fasting month.

Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray during Laylat al-Qadr, or the night of destiny, in the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in front of the Dome of the Rock at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City. Credit:AP

With tensions high, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed a decision on the possible evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. The decision had been expected for Monday, but was pushed back by up to 30 days in light of “circumstances,” the court said

Palestinians and international rights groups portray the planned evictions as a part of a campaign by Israel to drive Palestinians from traditionally Arab neighborhoods, especially in the heart of Jerusalem. Israel has cast the evictions case as a real estate dispute.

The flare-up in hostilities comes at a crucial point in Israel’s political crisis after longtime leader Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition. His opponents are now working to build an alternate government. If they succeed, Netanyahu would be pushed to the opposition for the first time in 12 years.

The worsening violence in the city has prompted US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to tell his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat that the Biden administration has “serious concerns,” including “violent confrontations at the Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount during the last days of Ramadan,” according to a readout from National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne.

He also repeated US concerns about the evictions of Palestinian families.

The United Nations Security Council will discuss the threat in a private session on Monday.

Palestinians escape from a stun grenade fired by Israeli police officers during clashes at Damascus Gate during Ramadan in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.Credit:Getty

At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was following the events in Jerusalem with worry and called for an end to the clashes.

“Violence only generates violence,” he told the public gathered at St. Peter’s Square.

The neighbouring kingdom of Jordan, which has custodianship of Islamic and Christian sites in Jerusalem, said Israel should respect worshippers and international law safeguarding Arab rights.

“What the Israeli police and special forces are doing, from violations against the mosque to attacks on worshippers, is barbaric (behaviour) that is rejected and condemned,” the government said in a statement.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was safeguarding the right of worship and would not tolerate rioting in the compound that houses the al-Aqsa Mosque and is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

Amos Gilad, a former senior defence official, told Army Radio that the parade through the Old City should be cancelled or at least kept away from Damascus Gate, saying “the powder keg is burning and can explode at any time”.

In recent days, dozens of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes near the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City.

“The occupier plays with fire, and tampering with Jerusalem is very dangerous,” Saleh Arouri, a top Hamas official, told the militant group’s Al-Aqsa TV station.

In clashes on Sunday night local time, Palestinian protesters shouted at police and pelted them with rocks and bottles, while police fired stun grenades and a water cannon to disperse the crowds. Palestinian medics said at least 14 protesters were injured.

The clashes were less intense than the previous two nights but there were signs the violence was beginning to spread.

Late Sunday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets toward Israel, setting off air raid sirens in southern city of Ashkelon and nearby areas, the Israeli military said. It said one rocket was intercepted, while two others exploded inside Gaza. Early Monday, Israeli tanks and artillery struck several Hamas posts near the border in retaliation for the rocket fire. There were no reports of injuries.

AP, Reuters

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