Police were gearing up for possible unrest around Jerusalem’s Old City ahead of Ramadan prayers on Friday afternoon, after a night of violent clashes involving Jewish extremists and Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
A number of roads surrounding the Old City were blocked by police from the early hours of Friday for the last weekend of Ramadan, with police saying the closures would remain in place until later in the afternoon.
According to a statement from police, forces have been bolstered in the city ahead of the expected arrival of tens of thousands of worshippers.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan normally sees increased tensions around the Old City, which houses the flashpoint Temple Mount site, holy to both Jews and Muslims.
Additionally, tensions have flared in the nearby East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah over the last week where dozens of Palestinians are at risk of being evicted following a long legal battle with right-wing Jewish Israelis trying to acquire property in the neighborhood, which is just north of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Palestinians and Israelis hurled rocks and chairs at each other on Thursday, with Palestinians setting fire to a Jewish family’s car driving through the area, after which a Jewish Israeli man fired into the air. At least 15 people were arrested, all of them Palestinians.
Dozens of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah may be removed from their homes in the coming weeks if the Supreme Court turns down their appeal against a pending eviction. They are likely to be replaced by right-wing Jewish nationalists who say the Palestinian homes were built on land owned by Jewish associations before the establishment of the State of Israel.
According to Ir Amim, a left-wing human rights group focusing on Jerusalem, around 200 families in East Jerusalem are now under threat of eviction, with cases slowly marching through administrative bodies and Israeli courts. Around 70 of those families live in Sheikh Jarrah, which has long been a focal point of Jewish-Arab tensions.
The Association for Human Rights in Israel says that around 358,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, the portion of the city captured by Israel from Jordan in 1967, where they have residency rights but generally not Israeli citizenship. Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The same area is home to 225,000 Jewish Israelis, most of whom reside in newer Jewish neighborhoods such as Gilo and Ramat Shlomo.
But nationalist Jews have long sought to expand the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods — whether through covert purchases of Palestinian homes, court-ordered evictions, or the construction of de facto Jewish-only housing projects — creating settlement-like enclaves within the neighborhoods.
Amid the violence, pro-Palestinian protesters have been meeting in the neighborhood for nightly iftars — the meal held after breaking the day-long fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — at long tables set up outside. On Thursday, extreme-right MK Itamar Ben-Gvir set up what he said was a makeshift parliamentary office across the street from the iftar meal.
The tensions have raised fears of sparking a wider conflict, with the Hamas terror group, and other factions in Gaza warning of renewed violence over the issue.
On Thursday, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad said Israel will be held responsible for “every drop of blood [that is] shed in Palestine,” a day after a 16-year-old Palestinian was killed in clashes with the IDF.
Echoing similar rhetoric, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), another Gaza-based terror group warned Israel “not to test the patience of our fighters,” in a statement on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, at least six brush fires were ignited Thursday in southern Israel by balloons carrying incendiary devices that were launched from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, one causing slight damage to a wheat field.
Tensions in Jerusalem, specifically around the Old City, reached boiling point last month after police prevented people from congregating outside Damascus Gate at the start of Ramadan, which Arabs said was an inflammatory move that obstructed a long-held tradition of gathering at the site during the Muslim holy month. Authorities later canceled the policy.
After some Palestinians filmed videos in which they attacked ultra-Orthodox passersby, the Jewish supremacist Lehava group responded by marching through Jerusalem’s downtown calling for “Death to Arabs” and searching for Palestinians to attack.
Additionally, tensions soared in the West Bank over the past week after a gunman opened fire toward Israeli teenagers at the Tapuah junction in the northern West Bank on Sunday, killing Yehuda Guetta and injuring two others.
The terror suspect, Muntasir Shalabi, 47, was arrested on Wednesday night in the central West Bank village of Silwad by Israeli security forces.
The IDF had already bolstered its forces in the West Bank for the month of Ramadan, a period that regularly sees an uptick in violence.
Emanuel Fabian, Aaron Boxerman and Agencies contributed to this report.