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ConflictsMiddle East

Jerusalem police remove barriers at Damascus Gate

April 26, 2021

Police have removed barricades to a traditional gathering place in east Jerusalem for Muslims observing Ramadan. The move could ease tensions after days of clashes.

Palestinians in front of the Damascus Gate, April 25
Palestinians gather outside Jerusalem's walled Old City on Sunday nightImage: Mostafa Alkharouf/AA/picture alliance

Israeli police allowed Palestinians to gather and celebrate Ramadan outside Jerusalem's Damascus Gate Sunday night, giving them access to a square that had become the focus of nightly clashes.

"It was ordered to remove the barriers after consultations with religious authorities, local leaders and shop owners," an Israeli police spokesman told Reuters news agency. He said the decision was made "to ensure peace and security for all" in Jerusalem.

Hundreds of Palestinians held celebratory rallies and prayed in front of the gate in celebration. Israeli police continued to watch over the celebrations.

Samir Gheith, a 66-year-old Palestinian from Jerusalem, told AFP news agency that people were looking forward to gathering at the gate for Ramadan after it was closed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think they don't want to see us be happy," Gheith told AFP, referring to the closure. "But they came to understand that they needed to put a stop to all these tensions," he added.

Jerusalem sees days of violence

The plaza outside Damascus Gate is in an Israeli-annexed part of east Jerusalem and is a traditional gathering spot for Palestinians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began April 13.

Nightly clashes in the area started soon after the observation of the holy month began.

Tensions ran high after Israeli police prevented crowds from gathering at the plaza outside the Damascus Gate.

Anger spread to the occupied West Bank, which saw protests of its own and rockets fired by militant groups from Gaza into Israel.

The violence came to a head last Thursday in street violence, during which Palestinian medics said 100 people were injured, and Israeli police arrested more than 50 protesters.

Tensions were exacerbated when hundreds of ultra-nationalist Israelis marched through central Jerusalem towards the gate, chanting "death to Arabs."

Palestinian protester against the Damascus Gate gathering ban
East Jerusalem saw several nights of protests and violence after gatherings at the Damascus Gate were bannedImage: Ahmad Hasaballah/IMAGESLIVE via ZUMA Wire/picture alliance

The clashes represented some of the worst violence between Israeli police and Palestinians in years.

Some Palestinians had also targeted Jewish onlookers and motorists during the nights, hitting them and stoning their cars.

The tensions finally began to subside on Saturday evening, and dozens of demonstrators held a "peace rally."

kbd/wmr (AFP, Reuters)