JERUSALEM, Israel – Clashes broke out Monday morning between Israeli security forces and Palestinian rioters at the Al Aqsa complex at the Temple Mount. The Palestinian Red Crescent, part of the International Red Cross, says 278 Palestinians have been wounded so far during the clashes. More than 200 of them have been hospitalized.
Police say at least 12 cops have been injured, including Arab and Israeli civilians wounded from rocks hurled at them near the Old City.
“This is a battle between tolerance and intolerance, between lawless violence and order,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Elements that want to expropriate our rights periodically force us to stand strong, like Israel’s police officers are doing. I back the officers in this just struggle.”
Israeli police closed the Temple Mount to Jews on Monday for fear of violent clashes at the flashpoint site.
Earlier in the day, terrorists in Gaza fired three rockets towards Israel, setting off alarms in southern Israel. At least one of the rockets was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, according to Israeli authorities. There we no immediate reports of injuries or damage.
The attack came after violence rocked Jerusalem over the weekend as religious and political tensions in the Holy City reached a boiling point. Authorities are concerned the unrest will spread into the upcoming week as Israelis observe a national holiday.
Israeli police officers clash with Palestinian protesters near Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem's Old City, Sunday, May 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
On Sunday, Israel saw another night of violent skirmishes between protestors and police as Palestinians and Arab Israelis demonstrated across the country to protest Israeli policies in Jerusalem.
Clashes broke out between Palestinians and Israeli forces in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The neighborhood is at the center of a contentious legal battle that has drawn international attention. There, dozens of Palestinians who have lived in this neighborhood for decades, face impending eviction after a Jerusalem court ruled that their homes sit on historically Jewish land and could be handed over to Israelis. Palestinians and human rights groups cast the expected evictions as a part of a nationalist campaign by Israel to drive Palestinians from traditionally Arab neighborhoods. Israel has cast the evictions case as a real estate dispute over land historically inhabited by Jews. On Friday, Israel's Foreign Ministry issued a statement claiming the Palestinians were "presenting a real-estate dispute as a nationalistic cause in order to incite violence in Jerusalem." The neighborhood has been the site of nightly clashes between demonstrators and police.
Thousands of Arab Israelis waving Palestinian flags also demonstrated in the cities of Haifa, Nazareth, Tira, and Shafaram. Israeli police used riot dispersal techniques and arrested protestors for allegedly throwing rocks and attacking cops.
With tensions high, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed a decision on the possible evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. The court was expected to hand down a decision on Monday, but pushed it back by up to 30 days in light of “circumstances,” the court said
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The late-night clashes raise the possibility of further violence on Monday during the annual Jerusalem Day celebrations. The holiday celebrates the reunification of eastern Jerusalem with western Jerusalem by Israel during the Six-Day War. Thousands of Israelis typically march through Jerusalem to mark the occasion. Israeli police on Sunday gave the green light for the parade to continue despite the concerns of violence.
Amos Gilad, a former senior defense official, told Army Radio the parade could lead to even more volatility, saying “the powder keg is burning and can explode at any time.”
This year’s march corresponds with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which typically sees an uptick in violence. That's because Ramadan in Muslim tradition is often associated with jihad and martyrdom. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an Israeli watchdog group, cited calls for martyrdom and terror from Hamas (part of the Muslim Brotherhood), Fatah (the political party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
MEMRI also published an excerpt of a proposed Friday sermon about Jerusalem by the Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS). The sermon promotes "violence, jihad and self-sacrifice," praises the "heroic jihad operations" of the "jihad fighters in Palestine," as well as the young Palestinians who are "deployed on the battlefront" in Jerusalem. The sermon states that "the Muslims' foremost duty is to wage jihad by sacrificing their souls" for Al-Aqsa (mosque).
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel “will not allow any extremists to destabilize the calm in Jerusalem. We will enforce law and order decisively and responsibly.”
The United States expressed its “serious concerns” about the situation in Jerusalem, including clashes between Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem's Old City and Israeli police, as well as the impending expulsion of Palestinian families.
On Friday, Muslim worshippers rioted at the al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, a site holy to Muslims and Jews. Hundreds were injured in the rioting.
The violence also spread to Israel’s south, where Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets at Israeli civilians late Sunday. The rockets set off air raids in the southern city of Ashkelon and nearby areas. The military said one rocket was intercepted, a second landed in an open area, while two others fell short and exploded inside Gaza. Gazan protesters affiliated with the terror group also launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel during the day, causing dozens of fires.
An Israeli firefighter attempts to extinguish a fire caused by an incendiary balloon launched by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, on the Israeli Gaza border, Sunday, May 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Early Monday, Israeli tanks and artillery struck several Hamas posts in Gaza in retaliation for the rocket fire and arson balloons. There were no reports of injuries.
The unrest comes at a sensitive time in Israeli politics. Netanyahu’s political opponents are currently tasked with building a government after the premier failed to do so by a deadline last week. If they are successful in building a governing coalition in Israel’s parliament, it would push Netanyahu and his Likud Party into the opposition for the first time in 12 years.
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