SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 20 May 2024, Monday |

Israeli police storm Al Aqsa, compound fire on worshippers

Major clashes broke out on Monday between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police near the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.

Hundreds of people threw projectiles at the Israeli security forces who responded with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets, the correspondent said, adding that some of those involved were injured.

The sound of the stun grenades and ambulance sirens could in other parts of Jerusalem.

Dozens of people were wounded when clashes erupted on Monday between Palestinians and Israeli police at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque compound.

The injured were evacuated in ambulances that were deployed outside the esplanade, the third holiest site in Islam, located in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Israeli police faced off with Palestinian protesters Sunday as well in another night of fighting in east Jerusalem, a day before Israeli nationalists planned to parade through the Old City in an annual flag-waving display meant to cement Israeli claims to the contested area.

The late-night skirmishes raised the likelihood of further clashes Monday during the annual Jerusalem Day celebrations. Israeli police gave the go-ahead to the parade Sunday, despite days of unrest and soaring Israeli-Palestinian tensions at a flashpoint holy site and in a nearby Arab neighbourhood where Jewish settlers are trying to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes.

Addressing a special Cabinet meeting before Jerusalem Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel “will not allow any extremists to destabilise the calm in Jerusalem. We will enforce law and order decisively and responsibly.”

“We will continue to maintain freedom of worship for all faiths, but we will not allow violent disturbances,” he said. At the same time, he said, “We emphatically reject the pressures not to build in Jerusalem.”

The United States again expressed its “serious concerns” about the situation in Jerusalem, including clashes between Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem’s Old City, home to sites sacred by Muslims and Jews, and Israeli police, as well as the expected expulsion of Palestinian families.

Washington made its concerns during a phone call between National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart. Sullivan urged Israel “to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations,” according to a statement by National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne.

Jerusalem Day is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem, home to the Old City and its sensitive holy sites, in the 1967 Mideast war. But the annual event is widely perceived as provocative, as hardline nationalist Israelis, guarded by police, march through the Damascus Gate of the Old City and through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

This year the march coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of heightened religious sensitivities, and follows weeks of clashes. That, combined with Palestinian anger over the eviction plan in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, could set the stage for an especially volatile day.

Amos Gilad, a former senior defence official, told Army Radio that the parade should be cancelled or at least kept away from Damascus Gate, saying “the powder keg is burning and can explode at any time.” Israel’s public broadcaster Kan said the final route of the parade had not yet been decided.

In recent days, dozens of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes near the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City. 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. It has been a tinderbox for serious violence in the past.

“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.