Around 250 Palestinians and 17 Israeli police officers are said to be reportedly injured in a violent clash that erupted between the Israeli riot police and Palestinians on Friday at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.
Stones, bottles and fireworks were hurled at Israeli police officers who fired rubber bullets at the crowds gathered at the Al-Aqsa mosque which is of prime importance for both sects.
The clash erupted as police officers tried to restore order after reports of “rioting of thousands of worshippers” following the evening prayers were received.
Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest site which is also revered by the Jews as the location of two biblical-era temples was packed with Muslims who had gone to offer prayers on the last Friday of Ramadan.
Reason for unrest in the region
Tensions in Jerusalem escalated in recent weeks as Palestinians protested the restrictions imposed by Israel on access to access parts of the Old City during the holy month of Ramzan.
The Palestinians are also vehemently opposing an order by the authorities which has asked several Palestinian families to vacate their homes and make way for Israeli settlers.
The past week was marred by violence with three Palestinians open firing on the Salem base in the occupied West Bank on Friday.
In another fatal incident, a 19-year-old Israeli was killed in a drive-by shooting at the West Bank Tapuah junction bus stop on Sunday.
On Wednesday, a 16-year-old Palestinian was killed by the Israeli troops in an open firing on protesters who were throwing petrol bombs in the West Bank area.
Since then regular clashes have broken out between police and protestors in the east Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. An AFP correspondent informed that around 100 protesters again rallied on Friday night in the neighbourhood, with officers using stun grenades and water cannons to disperse them.
The incidents in Sheikh Jarrah and Damascus Gate, both key entry points to the Old City — left many wounded in confrontations earlier in the week.
Sheikh Jarrah clashes
At the beginning of this year, a district court ruled four Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah legally belong to Jewish families and should be handed over.
The Jewish plaintiffs claimed that their families lost the land during the war that accompanied Israel’s creation in 1948 while the Sheikh Jarrah families have provided evidence that their homes were acquired from Jordanian authorities.
Hundreds of Palestinians carried out rallies on Friday in Jordan chanting, “we will die for Sheikh Jarrah.”
The United States has given a call for “de-escalation” and said the threatened evictions will only worsen the situation in east Jerusalem. The United Nations has also warned that forced evictions could amount to “war crimes”.
As the international observers urged calm, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Vennesland has expressed deep concerns over the clash and asked both parties to uphold the status quo.
Deeply concerned by the heightened tensions & violence in & around #Jerusalem. I call on all to act responsibly & maintain calm. All must respect the status quo of holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City in the interest of peace & stability. Political & religious leaders must act now.— Tor Wennesland (@TWennesland) May 7, 2021
Holding the Israeli government fully responsible for the unrest, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas voiced “full support for our heroes in Aqsa”.