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Four Palestinians arrested in Damascus Gate clashes on tense first night of Ramadan

Rioting far less widespread than last year, as holy month kicks off against backdrop of terror wave

  • Palestinians gather outside the Damascus gate in Jerusalem's Old City on April 2, 2022, on the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
    Palestinians gather outside the Damascus gate in Jerusalem's Old City on April 2, 2022, on the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
  • Palestinians sell balloons outside the Damascus gate in Jerusalem's Old City on April 2, 2022, on the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
    Palestinians sell balloons outside the Damascus gate in Jerusalem's Old City on April 2, 2022, on the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
  • Palestinians walk down a street in Jerusalem's Old City on April 2, 2022, on the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
    Palestinians walk down a street in Jerusalem's Old City on April 2, 2022, on the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
  • Palestinians gather outside the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem's Old City on April 2, 2022, on the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
    Palestinians gather outside the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem's Old City on April 2, 2022, on the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Police arrested four Palestinians during clashes on Saturday night at the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City on a tense first night of Ramadan.

Nonetheless, officers managed to contain the small group of young, male rioters using far less force than last year, when police cleared thousands of people from the Damascus Gate on a regular basis during the Islamic holy month.

Much of last year’s Ramadan clashes were sparked over the police’s ban on crowding at the Damascus Gate. This year, officers did not set up divider fences around the area to limit gathering, and most officers kept their distance from the plaza and its steps, where thousands of revelers were perched intermittently throughout the evening.

The night began with a festive ambiance, as food vendors sold traditional sweets and clowns put on a performance for children, sponsored by the municipality. But as the night progressed, the atmosphere intensified.

A number of young Palestinian men began chanting nationalist slogans and threw bottles at the police checkpost at the top of the Damascus Gate steps, law enforcement said. But rather than scattering the entire crowd with riot dispersal measures as they did last Ramadan, officers were more targeted in their response.

Later in the evening, a suspect set off fireworks in the direction of police and another torched a garbage can, leading to further clashes.

Police said they arrested four young men on suspicion of having thrown stones and other objects at officers.

Cops also detained a fifth suspect who allegedly threatened officers while filming a livestream on the TikTok video-sharing platform, police said.

“Whoever chooses to disturb the order, riot, and engage in violence of any kind, harms first and foremost the large public of worshipers, merchants, and visitors, the vast majority of whom wished to celebrate Ramadan in peace and security, while maintaining freedom of worship,” police said in a statement.

After clashes in Jerusalem last Ramadan snowballed into an 11-day Gaza war, security forces have been placed on high alert this year in an effort to prevent a similar escalation.

The government has approved a series of steps aimed at easing the usually heavily restricted freedom of movement for Palestinians and allowing larger numbers of them to reach the Old City to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Those measures have been jeopardized by the recent terror wave, which took the lives of 11 people in Israel in just one week. The third of those attacks was carried out by a Palestinian from the West Bank, while the first two were committed by Arab Israeli citizens.

In a message addressed to Palestinians as Ramadan began Saturday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said any easing of restrictions during the Muslim holy month would depend “on the security situation.”

Earlier Saturday, three members of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell were shot dead by troops in the northern West Bank village of Arraba, near Jenin, as they were allegedly en route to commit an attack in Israel.

On Thursday, at least two Palestinian gunmen were killed in a firefight with Israeli troops when commandos entered Jenin in a rare daytime raid as part of a large-scale anti-terror operation following the recent attacks. At least 14 other Palestinians were wounded in the incident and dozens were arrested in the operation.

Friday’s Muslim prayers on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount took place without any major incident.

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