Jerusalem tensions high as thousands head to Al-Aqsa after clashes

by Reuters
Saturday, 8 May 2021 17:10 GMT

(Adds Netanyahu, worshippers stopped en route to Jerusalem)

JERUSALEM, May 8 (Reuters) - Israel said it was beefing up security forces on Saturday in anticipation of more confrontations with Palestinian protesters, a day after fierce clashes at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Tensions have mounted in the city, the occupied West Bank and Gaza throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, amid growing anger over the potential eviction of Palestinians from Jerusalem homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers.

Thousands of Palestinians were expected to return to Al-Aqsa Mosque after dark fell for the sacred Muslim night of Laylat al-Qadr.

Television footage showed buses of Muslim worshippers from Israeli Arab cities being stopped by police on the main highway to Jerusalem.

Word of the roadblock spread on social media, drawing hundreds of young men from nearby Arab villages and from Jerusalem.

Dozens drove their cars the wrong way down the now-empty Jerusalem-bound lanes, picking up fellow Muslims who had abandoned their own vehicles to start the uphill trek on foot. Some chanted in Arabic: "With our souls and our blood, we will redeem you, Al-Aqsa!"

Police said it was stopping only those planning to take part in riots before the buses were allowed to proceed. Scuffles broke out and footage showed officers firing stun grenades.

On Friday, police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades towards rock-hurling Palestinian youths at the mosque in the walled Old City on the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount plaza sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

At least 205 Palestinians and 18 Israeli officers were injured in Friday's confrontations, which drew international condemnations and calls for calm.

Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai said more officers were being deployed in Jerusalem on Saturday.

"The right to protest will be preserved, but riots will be answered firmly and with zero tolerance. I call on everyone to act responsibly and with restraint," Shabtai said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that law and order would be maintained in Jerusalem as would the right to worship.

Clashes have erupted nightly in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah - a neighbourhood where numerous Palestinian families face eviction in a long-running legal case.

The Israeli military said it was boosting troops in the West Bank and near the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians have sent incendiary balloons over the border, igniting brushfires in Israeli territory. A military spokesman said extra forces there would largely be firefighting ones.

CALL FOR BORDER PROTESTS

Gaza groups issued a call for protests along the border with Israel. "We salute the ppl. of Al-Aqsa, who oppose the arrogance of the Zionists & we call on our ppl. in Palestine to support their brothers by all means," Moussa Abu Marzouk, a leader of the armed Islamist group Hamas that rules Gaza, said on Twitter.

Tension was expected to remain high over the next few days. Israel's Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions on Monday, the same day that Israel marks Jerusalem Day - its annual celebration of its capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East war.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Israel claims the entire city as its eternal, indivisible capital. Its annexation of the eastern section was not recognised internationally. (Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza Dan Williams on Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Frances Kerry)

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