Hundreds of Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli police at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites on Monday, as tensions in the city continue to soar.
Footage from social media showed Israeli police inside Al Aqsa mosque and its surrounding compound, throwing stun grenades, and Palestinians throwing rocks at officers. Around 50 injured Palestinians were taken to hospital for treatment, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
The clashes came hours before an annual march through Jerusalem’s Old City when Israelis mark the day the Israeli army took control of the Western Wall and the rest of East Jerusalem in 1967. In previous years, the march has been a flashpoint with Palestinian residents of the Old City complaining it is provocative for the procession to pass down a main street in the Muslim quarter. Authorities have been discussing placing restrictions on this year’s route to lessen the chance of confrontation.
Also heightening tensions on Monday, a car drove into two pedestrians near the Lion’s Gate entrance to the Old City after it was pelted with stones, according to video of the incident. The car, carrying religious Israelis, came under attack by young Palestinians as it tried to change direction, before accelerating forward and mounting the curb, sending two Palestinians hurling backward. Police said the driver had lost control of the vehicle and that its occupants were slightly injured. The condition of the two Palestinians is not yet known.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has backed police for their handling of rising tensions in Jerusalem over recent weeks, which he described Monday as a “struggle for the heart” of the city. He said Israel was committed to “ensuring the rights of everyone” to pursue their faith.
One of the main sources of growing unrest in recent days has been the possible eviction of several Palestinian families from their homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. On Sunday, Israel’s supreme court postponed an appeal hearing on the decades-long legal case.
Israeli police have clashed with Palestinians in the neighborhood, as well as other locations, for several weeks now, with Palestinians accusing Jewish nationalists of provocation and police of heavy-handed tactics.
A pro-settler organization called Nahalat Shimon is using a 1970 law to argue that the owners of the land before 1948 were Jewish families, and so the current Palestinian landowners should be evicted and their properties given to Israeli Jews.
Palestinians say restitution laws in Israel are unfair because they have no legal means to reclaim property they lost to Jewish families in the late 1940s in what became the state of Israel.
The situation in Sheikh Jarrah has drawn worldwide attention, with the United States expressing concern over the weekend.
“We are also deeply concerned about the potential eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods of Jerusalem, many of whom have lived in their homes for generations,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
“As we have consistently said, it is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace. This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
In a statement on Saturday, the Israeli foreign ministry called the situation in Sheikh Jarrah a “real-estate dispute.”
“Regrettably, the PA and Palestinian terror groups are presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties, as a nationalistic cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem,” the ministry said.
Palestinian leaders and institutions, including the Palestine National Council, have described the evictions of Palestinian residents from their homes as “ethnic cleansing” aimed at “Judaizing the holy city,” according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
Most of the international community regards East Jerusalem as occupied territory, and Palestinians see it as the capital of a future state. Israel wants to keep the city united as part of its sovereign territory, rejecting the idea that any part of it is occupied.