© Reuters. Palestinians gather after last Friday in Ramadan to protest the possible eviction of several Palestinian families from homes claimed by Jewish settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Old City Jerusalem on May 7, 2021
By Rami Ayyub, Ammar Awad and Stephen Farrell
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police fired rubber bullets and grenades at Palestinian youth on Friday at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
At least 205 Palestinians and 17 officers were injured in the night clashes in Islam’s third holiest place and near East Jerusalem, Palestinian medics and Israeli police said when thousands of Palestinians faced hundreds of Israeli police officers in riot gear.
Tensions have increased during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Night-time clashes broke out in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, a neighborhood where numerous Palestinian families are being displaced in a longstanding legal battle.
The United States and the United Nations on Friday called for calm and restraint. Others, including the European Union and Jordan, expressed alarm about possible evictions.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians were packed up for prayers on the hill surrounding the mosque on Friday. Many continued to protest against the evictions in the city at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
After dinner, which quickly breaks Ramadan, clashes and minor brawls broke out in Al-Aqsa near Sheikh Jarrah, which is near the famous Damascus Gate of the walled old city.
Police used water cannons on armored vehicles to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who had gathered near the homes of families who may have been displaced.
“If we don’t stand here with this group of people, (evictions) will come to my house, their house, his house and every Palestinian who lives here,” said 23-year-old protester Bashar Mahmoud from the nearby Palestinian neighborhood from Issawiya.
“Calm down and be calm”
An Aqsa official called for silence on the site over the mosque’s loudspeakers. “The police must immediately stop firing tranquilizers at worshipers, and the youth must calm down and be calm!”
The Israeli Supreme Court will hold a hearing on Monday, the day Israel celebrates Jerusalem Day, on the evictions of Sheikh Jarrah – its annual celebration of the conquest of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Ambulance Service said 108 of the injured Palestinians were hospitalized, many of whom were hit with rubber-coated metal bullets.
One of the injured lost an eye, two suffered severe head injuries and two had broken jaws, the Red Crescent said. Most of the other injuries are minor, he added.
A police spokeswoman said Palestinians threw stones, fireworks and other objects at officials, with about half of the 17 injured in hospital requiring medical treatment.
“We will react with a heavy hand to violent unrest, unrest or damage to our officials and try to find those responsible and bring them to justice,” said the spokeswoman.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he had “blamed (Israel) for the dangerous developments and sinful attacks in the holy city” and called on the UN Security Council to hold an urgent meeting on the matter.
Violence has also increased in the occupied West Bank, where two Palestinian armed men were killed and a third seriously injured on Friday after opening fire on an Israeli base, police said. Following this incident, the Israeli military said it would send additional combat troops to the West Bank.
‘PLAYING WITH THE FIRE’
Sheikh Jarrah’s residents are mostly Palestinian, but the neighborhood is also home to a site venerated by religious Jews as the tomb of an ancient high priest, Simon the Righteous.
The spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the evictions “, if ordered and carried out, would violate Israel’s obligations under international law” in the territory of East Jerusalem, which they conquered from neighboring Jordan along with the West Bank in 1967 occupied.
“We call on Israel to immediately cease all evictions, including those in Sheikh Jarrah, and to cease any activity that would further contribute to a coercive environment and create a risk of forced relocation,” said spokesman Rupert Colville on Friday.
Washington is “deeply concerned about the mounting tensions in Jerusalem,” said State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter.
“As we approach a sensitive period in the coming days, it will be of vital importance for all parties to maintain calm and act responsibly in order to relieve tension and avoid violent confrontations,” said Porter.
The European Union, Jordan and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council have expressed concern about the possible evictions.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Jordan had submitted documents to the Palestinian Authority showing that Sheikh Jarrah’s Palestinians were the “legitimate owners” of their homes.
Israel’s “provocative moves in occupied Jerusalem and violations of Palestinian rights, including the rights of the people of Sheikh Jarrah in their homes, are playing with fire,” Safadi said in a Foreign Ministry statement on Twitter.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Friday that the Palestinians are “presenting a property dispute between private parties as a nationalist cause to incite violence in Jerusalem”. The Palestinians denied the allegation.