Ramadan prayers on the flashpoint Temple Mount in Jerusalem passed peacefully on Friday after a night of violent clashes involving Jewish extremists and Palestinians in the area as Muslim religious leaders called for calm.
However, in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas terror group staged a series of rallies in support of Palestinians taking part in the protests, urging them to take up arms to “liberate” the land and “protect our holy sites.”
Dozens of people were injured when violent clashes erupted at the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem late Thursday as Palestinian protesters confronted a group of some 300 extreme-right Jewish activists who marched to the scene chanting “Death to Arabs.” Police, trying to keep the groups apart, also clashed with the Palestinians, who threw rocks at the officers.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan normally sees increased tensions around the Old City, which houses the Temple Mount site, holy to both Jews and Muslims.
Residents braced for possible further unrest as police stepped up security and the US Embassy, United Nations and Jordan all called for calm.
There were concerns the violence could reignite following Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but tens of thousands of worshippers dispersed peacefully after Muslim religious leaders called for restraint.
Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, condemned the “police and settlers’ attack on Palestinians in Jerusalem” in his Friday sermon. But he called on worshippers to remain calm and not to give the other side an excuse to storm the compound. They dispersed peacefully after prayers and there were no immediate reports of unrest.
However, Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, meanwhile staged dozens of protests across the territory expressing solidarity with Muslim worshippers in Jerusalem and calling for violence.
Addressing the protesters, senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar condemned the decision of some Arab states to normalize relations with Israel last year and lashed out at the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank for continuing its security coordination with Israel.
“After a long series of protests and demonstrations, we have reached the conclusion that without weapons, we cannot liberate our land, protect our holy sites, bringing back our people to their land or maintain our dignity,” he said.
Also Friday, several hundred Arab Israelis held a solidarity rally in Jaffa, which has also been the scene of clashes between Arabs and Jews in recent days.
The protest, attended by several Arab lawmakers, was peaeful.
Meanwhile, Israel Public Security Minister Amir Ohana held consultations Friday afternoon with police and security officials amid fears of continued violence, telling officers they had his full support to use any necessary force.
Following the meeting, Ohana wrote in a Facebook post that security forces had “the complete backing to use all means, force and the necessary power to restore law and order.
Ohana condemned recent Palestinian attacks against Jews in Jerusalem and Jaffa, but did not mention violence carried out by Jews against Arabs.
Late Thursday, officers used riot dispersal means including stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons to break up the Arab protestors. At least 105 Palestinians were injured, including 22 who were hospitalized, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
Police said some 20 officers were injured in the clashes, including a mounted officer hit in the face by a rock. Three were taken for medical treatment.
Police also said over 50 people were arrested for throwing rocks, launching fireworks, assaulting cops and other violent acts during the rioting, which carried into early Friday.
Jerusalem has seen several days of violence after a number of assaults on Jews that were filmed and later uploaded to the TikTok video-sharing app, including one of an East Jerusalem teenager slapping two ultra-Orthodox boys on the light rail.
In one incident overnight, police said a Jewish motorist was attacked in East Jerusalem and stones were thrown at his car. When he tried to flee on foot, he was caught and beaten by several people. His car was later set on fire.
Video on social media showed him being repeatedly kicked as he lay on the floor. Police said he had been hospitalized.
ערבים בועטים ביהודי שרוע כל הקרקע בשער שכם pic.twitter.com/zmAaAnUXdm
— גלעד כהן | Gilad Cohen (@GiladCohenJR) April 22, 2021
Police said they were searching for suspects.
The motorist who was attacked, 46-year-old Yahya Jardi, recalled thinking he wouldn’t make it out alive.
“I stood in a traffic jam and they started throwing stones at me, at the window, they beat me, they wanted to kill me. I thought I would die,” he told the Ynet news site from his hospital bed.
Hadassah Hospital said 16 people injured in the riots were taken to its medical centers, including Jardi. All were said to have suffered light injuries, suffering from various physical traumas.
In another late-night incident, a Jewish man opened fire in the air, after he allegedly came under attack near the Ministry of Justice, which is located in East Jerusalem. Video on social media showed the moment he began to shoot a number of times, before driving off.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) April 23, 2021
Arab protesters also set a dumpster and a bus stop on fire.
According to the Israel Police, far-right Jewish extremists also hurled stones and set a trash can ablaze at a Jerusalem intersection.
Video posted to social media from the scene showed Jewish youths attacking an Arab home just inside the Old City.
The sounds of children crying can be heard as a woman, unseen, shouts “Stop” in Arabic while several youths throw objects at the home.
יהודים תוקפים בית בעיר העתיקה. אם תדליקו את הרמקולים תשמעו את הבכי של הילדים. pic.twitter.com/lgR5HaXe1s
— نير حسون Nir Hasson ניר חסון (@nirhasson) April 22, 2021
The clashes came a day after running street battles between Jews and Arabs in downtown Jerusalem.
In response, the Jewish extremist Lehava group had called for a protest Thursday in a show of “national honor.”
Some 300 activists from the Lehava group took part in the march that brought them to within a few dozen meters of Damascus Gate where Palestinians had gathered in a counter-protest.
Lehava protestors chanted “Death to the Arabs!” and “Arabs get out!” as police tried to keep the two sides apart while also dealing with attacks from the Palestinian protestors, who had gathered at the gate to counter the expected march and began throwing rocks and bottles at police.
Though police had deployed hundreds of officers ahead of the march to prevent it from reaching its destination, dozens of Lehava protesters were able to reach the Palestinian crowd and the two sides began throwing objects at each other.
Police eventually moved in to separate the crowds, positioning mounted officers to hold back the Lehava demonstration that was led by Bentzi Gopstein, the group’s chief.
After being blocked by police forces from reaching the Old City, several dozen Lehava supporters marched up to the nearby Mahane Yehuda market where they attacked several Arab workers, police said. Police officers rescued the workers who took refuge in a shop.
Along with the ethnic tensions, Jerusalem has seen regular clashes over the past week between Palestinian residents and police who have been blocking Palestinians from sitting on the steps of Damascus Gate. In an unofficial Jerusalem tradition, thousands of Palestinians sit in the area following nighttime prayers during Ramadan.
Police have deployed water cannons and stun grenades to disperse crowds while rioters have hurled stones and set off fireworks at cops.
Lehava opposes intermarriage and assimilation of Jews with non-Jews, as well as LGBT rights, and tries to stifle any public activity by non-Jews in Israel, including coexistence events. Lawmakers across the political spectrum have tried to designate it a terrorist group and its leader has been barred from running for the Knesset.