Forces brace for second week of Friday protests over US Jerusalem move

Forces brace for second week of Friday protests over US Jerusalem move

IDF reinforcements to be brought to West Bank, fears of clashes on Gaza border, but police say no restrictions imposed on Temple Mount attendance

Illustrative. An Israeli soldier throws a stun grenade toward Palestinian rioters during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron on December 8, 2017. (Hazem Bader/AFP)
Illustrative. An Israeli soldier throws a stun grenade toward Palestinian rioters during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron on December 8, 2017. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

Israeli security forces were preparing for clashes with Palestinian protesters for a second consecutive Friday, following last week’s announcement by US President Donald Trump that the US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Hundreds of additional IDF soldiers were to be deployed across the West Bank and on the Gaza border in anticipation of demonstrations against the US move, expected to follow Friday noon-time prayers.

Clashes were also expected in Jerusalem but following relative clam in the capital last week, police were again planning not to impose any age restrictions on Muslim worshipers praying on the Temple Mount. At times of expected violence, Israeli authorities sometimes limit access to the site for young men.

Border Police officers are seen at the Old City of Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate during a protest against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital on December 7, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In an address last week from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.

The move was hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

Palestinians angered by what they saw as the US dismissing their claims to East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state called for demonstrations and “days of rage.” Hamas leaders urged the start of a new intifada, or uprising.

Since then, a total of 67 people have been arrested for riot-related crimes during disturbances that flared up in Jerusalem, police said in a statement Thursday.

Over the past two days, 37 arrests were carried out in East Jerusalem neighborhoods including A-Tur, Shuafat, Wadi Joz, Ras al-Amud, Issawiya, and the Old City of Jerusalem. The suspects were all taken in for questioning and later brought to court for hearings.

Another 30 detainees were arrested during riots, police said.

A Palestinian protester throws a rock at Israeli troops during a clash in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 13, 2017. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

There was no official statement on how many arrests were carried out in the West Bank.

Police said a combination of fieldwork, intelligence gathering, surveillance and the use of technology, along with determined detective work, led to the arrest of key suspects in the violent demonstrations.

During riots at various locations in the capital, protesters threw stones, glass bottles, Molotov cocktails, and other objects at officers as well as blocking roads, burning garbage cans, and shooting firecrackers at police. Several officers have been injured.

The West Bank has also seen daily confrontations between protesters and troops. A video released by the army Wednesday showed undercover troops arresting rock throwers during a riot.

Though the clashes have mostly died down, officials fear they may ramp up again for the Muslim Friday prayers, when tensions often rise.

On Israel’s southern border with Gaza, protests along the border fence have been accompanied by a marked uptick in rocket attacks, with over a dozen missiles fired since Trump’s speech.

Palestinian protesters take cover from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during clashes on the Israeli border with Gaza, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

On Thursday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman called on Israelis to “relax,” despite the dramatic increase in the number of rocket attacks from Gaza over the past week.

Speaking from the southern city of Sderot, Liberman said the rocket fire was the result of internal Palestinian political spats and not an indication that terrorist groups were no longer afraid of Israel.

The reassurance from the ordinarily bellicose defense minister appeared to be a response to growing calls for the Israel Defense Forces to take more aggressive action against terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the rocket attacks.

While most missiles have been intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, two missiles fired over the previous weekend managed to cause damage to cars and buildings in Sderot.

After more than three years with limited rocket fire from Gaza — 26 rockets were fired in 2015, 20 in 2016, and nine from January to November 2017 — the sudden spike in December has raised concerns Israel might be headed for another war with terrorist groups in the Strip.

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