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ConflictsMiddle East

Jerusalem: Violent clashes at Al-Aqsa mosque

May 8, 2021

A case threatening the eviction of Palestinians in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood has triggered further tensions with Israel.

An Israeli policeman gestures as a car burns.
Police clashed with protesters early FridayImage: Ammar Awad/REUTERS

More than 200 people have been wounded in clashes between Palestinian worshippers and the Israeli police at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the Palestinian emergency service said early Saturday.

Palestinian medics and Israeli police said that at least 88 people were hospitalized. 

The Palestinian Red Crescent said many were hit in the face and in the eyes by rubber-coated bullets and shrapnel from stun grenades.

According to the Israeli police, 17 officers were among those injured — about half of them needing treatment in hospital.

Al-Aqsa is Islam's third-holiest site. It is also a major holy site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. 

How did violence unfold at Al-Aqsa?

Tensions flared when Israeli police deployed at the compound as Muslims were performing evening prayers at the mosque during Ramadan.

Video footage shows worshippers throwing chairs, shoes, and rocks toward the police who then responded by opening fire, the Associated Press reported, citing video footage of the scene. 

Israeli police also closed the gates leading to Al-Aqsa inside Jerusalem's walled Old City.

The Al-Aqsa mosque clashes marked the latest in a deadly day that saw Israeli authorities shoot and kill two Palestinians after three men opened fire on an Israeli police base in the occupied West Bank.

What happened earlier?

Earlier on Friday, Israeli forces said they arrested 15 Palestinians after clashes in annexed East Jerusalem.

Tensions have heightened in recent days in Jerusalem as a legal battle with Israeli settlers put dozens of Palestinians at risk of eviction.

Police said Palestinian protesters were setting off fireworks and throwing stones at officers and vehicles early on Friday in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Palestinian media reported that Israeli settlers and police had attacked a Palestinian vigil in Sheikh Jarrah early on Friday. 

What are the land right cases?

Located in the Arab eastern part of Jerusalem, the neighborhood has been the center of property disputes for decades.

Both Israeli settlers and Palestinians claim ownership in Sheikh Jarrah.

A Supreme Court decision in a property case involving four Palestinian families is expected next week.

Supporters of the families have been gathering in the neighborhood for days to break their Ramadan fast with their communal outdoor sunset iftar meal.

In recent years, forced evictions of Palestinian homes have repeatedly led to protests.

DW's Jerusalem correspondent Tania Krämer says "the eviction issue is not new here, it started almost a decade ago, even beyond that."

Krämer told DW that she spoke to some families in Jerusalem who say they will be thrown out of their homes and that "more families can expect to be evicted by August."

The state of Israel claims Jerusalem as its "eternal and indivisible capital," while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their capital.

Palestinian protesters wave the national flag outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City.
In recent weeks, protests rocked East Jerusalem as Palestinians were denied access to a traditional gathering placeImage: Ahmad Gharabali/AFP

Violence escalates

Clashes in Jerusalem in the past weeks have prompted violence elsewhere. 

Israeli forces said they shot and killed two Palestinian gunmen after the men opened fire on a border police base in the occupied West Bank.

"Three terrorists fired towards the Salem border police base," an Israeli statement said. The third attacker was in a "critical condition" after he was also shot.

Earlier this week, Israeli forces killed a 16-year-old Palestinian during a confrontation near the West Bank city of Nablus.

On Thursday, a Palestinian was arrested over a drive-by shooting in the West Bank that killed an Israeli and wounded two others.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel for the escalation. Meanwhile, the Islamist Hamas movement, which governs the Gaza Strip, condemned Israel's actions.

It will "pay the price for its aggression," Hamas said in a statement.

West Bank: Living with Uncertainty

EU, Russia urges de-escalation

The EU condemned the violence and urged authorities to calm tensions.

"The European Union calls on the authorities to act urgently to de-escalate the current tensions in Jerusalem," a spokesman for the EU said in a statement.

The statement added that "acts of incitement around the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif must be avoided and the status quo has to be respected," using another term for the key religious site.

It said "political, religious and community leaders on all sides should show restraint and responsibility and make every effort to calm down this volatile situation."

The statement called for perpetrators "on all sides" to be held accountable.

Russia on Saturday also urged both sides to refrain from escalating violence.

"This development of events is perceived with deep concern in Moscow. We strongly condemn attacks against civilians," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

"We call on all parties to refrain from any steps fraught with the escalation of violence," it added.

US warns against evictions

Washington appealed for de-escalation in Jerusalem and warned against carrying out eviction threats. 

"We're deeply concerned about the heightened tensions in Jerusalem," said deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter.

"It is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace," Porter said in a statement. "This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism."

She said some Palestinian families targeted for eviction have "lived in their home for generations."

Saudi Arabia, UAE condemn Israel

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on Saturday denounced Israel's plans to evict Palestinians from their homes. 

"Saudi Arabia rejects Israel's plans and measures to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem and impose Israeli sovereignty over them," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The UAE also "strongly condemned" the clashes and planned evictions,

In a statement, Khalifa al-Marar, the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, stressed: "the need for Israeli authorities to assume their responsibilities — in line with international law — to provide necessary protection to Palestinian civilians' right to practice their religion, and to prevent practices that violate the sanctity of the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque."

UN warns of possible 'war crimes'

The United Nations urged Israel on Friday to call off forced evictions in East Jerusalem, warning that its actions could amount to "war crimes," the AFP news agency cited a spokesman as saying.

"We wish to emphasize that East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, in which international humanitarian law applies," UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.

Israel also received criticism over a decision to build 540 settlement units in the West Bank. Germany, the UK, France, Spain and Italy called on Israel to stop the construction of illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

mvb, fb/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters) 

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