Fresh clashes have erupted between Palestinians and Israeli police outside the Old City of Jerusalem, extending some of the city’s worst unrest in years, as a former Israeli defense official warned of an atmosphere like a powder keg ready to explode at any time.
At least 80 people were injured, including a one-year-old, and 14 were taken to hospital, the Palestine Red Crescent said. Israeli police said at least one officer was hurt.
Islamic authorities estimated 90,000 people had gathered for night-time prayers at the holy city’s al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
Saturday night fresh violence came a day after more than 200 people were wounded in fighting around the mosque, prompting international calls for calm.
Tensions in Jerusalem have soared in recent days, ahead of an expected Israeli court ruling on Monday on whether authorities can evict dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and give their homes to Jewish settlers. Inflaming the situation, Israelis will mark Jerusalem Day on the same day, celebrating the anniversary of when troops captured the city in 1967, including its majority-Arab neighborhoods.
Amos Gilad, an ex-head of military intelligence and former top defense ministry official, said the parade should be canceled or rerouted. “The powder keg is burning and can explode at any time,” he told Army Radio.
Palestinians have also complained of oppressive restrictions on gatherings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Saturday’s clashes broke out at Damascus Gate after tens of thousands of worshippers had prayed at Al-Aqsa mosque for Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night in the Muslim month of Ramadan.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said at least 90 Palestinians were hurt, and 14 were taken to hospital. Earlier on Saturday, Israeli police had stopped dozens of buses carrying worshippers to the mosque, and a number of Palestinians were arrested after Friday’s violence. “They do not want us to pray. There is a fight every day, every day there are clashes. Every day there are troubles,” Mahmoud al-Marbua, 27, told Reuters news agency. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was acting responsibly to ensure law and order while maintaining freedom of worship.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he said were Israel’s “sinful attacks” Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war and considers the entire city its capital, though this is not recognized by the vast majority of the international community. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the future capital of a hoped-for independent state. Tensions have been rising over the threatened eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’s Shaikh Jarrah district. The UN says Israel should call off any evictions and employ “maximum restraint in the use of force” against protesters. The League of Arab States has called on the international community to intervene to prevent any forced evictions. Israel’s Supreme Court is expected to hold a hearing on the long-running legal case on Monday.