JERUSALEM: Israel vowed on Sunday to restore order in Jerusalem after hundreds of Palestinian protesters were wounded in a weekend of clashes with Israeli forces, as a key court hearing on a flashpoint property dispute was postponed.

The area around the Al Aqsa mosque has seen several nights of violence, the worst since 2017, fuelled by a years-long bid by Jewish settlers to take over nearby Palestinian homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel would “decisively and responsibly impose law and order in Jerusalem”.

Amid growing international calls for a de-escalation, Tunisia said the UN Security Council was to hold a closed-door meeting on Monday, at its request, on the violence.

Some 121 Palestinians were wounded in Saturday’s clashes, many hit by rubber bullets and stun grenades, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

Israeli police said 17 of its officers were wounded.

The previous night more than 220 people, again mostly Palestinians, were hurt as police stormed Al Aqsa, saying Palestinians had thrown rocks and fireworks at officers.

Four Arab countries that normalised ties with Israel over the past year — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — all condemned Israel’s actions and voiced support for the Palestinians.

In Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994, several hundred protesters in the capital Amman demanded the closure of the Israeli embassy.

The UN children’s agency Unicef said that over two days, 29 Palestinian children had been injured in east Jerusalem, including a one-year-old.

Eight Palestinian children have been arrested, it said.

On Saturday night, thousands of Palestinians packed Al Aqsa mosque compound for Ramazan prayers at Islam’s third-holiest site, which Jews revere as the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel would maintain “freedom of worship for all religions”.

But police set up roadblocks the previous night, saying they wanted to limit access to the old city and avoid “violent riots” — effectively preventing hundreds from praying.

Police stopped one bus heading to east Jerusalem and detained some Palestinians, while hundreds of others marched on highways to the holy city.

“They want to stop us from going to Al Aqsa,” said Ali al Komani, 40, outside the holy site.

Worshippers prayed peacefully at Al Aqsa on Saturday, but violence flared elsewhere in east Jerusalem, in the West Bank and on the Gaza-Israel border.

Mounted police deployed outside the old city’s Damascus Gate, as agents fired stun grenades to disperse protesters.

Palestinians pelted riot police with stones and set fire to a makeshift barricade, and reporters saw a woman with a bloodied face being escorted away from the scene by a rescuer.

Police also dispersed a rally in Sheikh Jarrah district, where Palestinian families facing eviction from their homes in a dispute with Jewish settlers had been expecting a Supreme Court decision on Monday.

Police fired stun grenades and water cannon at protesters who pelted them with stones, while a group of Palestinians clapped and sang resistance songs.

“We are here, in the street, to say that we are not going to leave,” demonstrator Adnan, 20, said. “For years, settlers have attacked us and taken our land, but silence is no longer an option.”

Hamas Islamists in Gaza have threatened attacks against Israel if the high-profile case goes against the Palestinian families.

The justice ministry said that in light of “all the circumstances”, it would delay the court hearing.

39 fires

In Gaza, Palestinians on Saturday packed tyres inside vehicles and drove to the border with Israel, where they set them on fire.

They have also fired incendiary balloons across the frontier, with 39 separate blazes started in southern Israel on Sunday, fire services said.

In response, the Israeli military branch responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian Territories announced the closure of the fishing zone off Gaza, a traditional Israeli sanction in response to Gaza projectiles.

The violence has sparked international calls for calm, including from Pope Francis and the Middle East quartet of envoys from the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations.

Jordan, the custodian of holy sites in east Jerusalem, condemned Israel’s “barbaric attack”. Egypt, the first Arab state to establish with Israel, denounced Israel’s storming of the Al Aqsa mosque.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas voiced “full support for our heroes in Al Aqsa”.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2021

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