Fresh clashes broke out Friday in East Jerusalem over the pending eviction of several Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood amid soaring tensions and threats of violence over the issue.
Police said a protest in Sheikh Jarrah “quickly turned into a violent riot,” with rocks thrown at officers.
Citing “the chants that were heard and the rioting that began, the order was given,” a police statement said the protesters were instructed to disperse, but did not heed the order.
As cops dispersed the demonstrators, they threw rocks at the officers, who responded with riot dispersal means, according to the statement. The Haaretz daily said two protesters were injured by stun grenades.
Police arrested two people on suspicion of rioting and rock-throwing.
“The Israel Police will not surrender to any provocation and will continue to allow everyone, whoever they are, the freedom to demonstrate within the limits of the law. With this, we will continue to act uncompromisingly in cases where the law is breached,” the statement said.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 7, 2021
Numerous lawmakers from the predominantly Arab Joint List and left-wing Meretz party attended the protest.
“They are forcefully expelling [Palestinians] from here, a disgrace,” Joint List MK Ofer Cassif was quoted saying by the Ynet news site.
Cassif, the only Jewish lawmaker in the Joint List, has attended several recent protests in Sheikh Jarrah, including a demonstration there last month in which he was beaten and punched by officers. Police have claimed Cassif goaded the officers, several of whom are being investigated over the incident.
At Friday’s protest, Cassif’s glasses were again broken after he was shoved by an officer, according to Haaretz, while Ynet quoted fellow Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi saying he was pushed by police.
“Troops arrive here, enter homes and break bones. We see them beating the protesters… and what happened yesterday when scum like him arrives,” Cassif said, referring to far-right Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben-Gvir. “He receives support.”
Ben Gvir, a disciple of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, on Thursday set up what he claimed to be a parliamentary office in Sheikh Jarrah. He agreed on Friday to vacate the site in return for a police presence near homes claimed by right-wing Jews.
Friday’s clashes between protesters and police followed two consecutive nights of rioting in Sheikh Jarrah, fueled by a years-long land dispute between Palestinians and right-wing Jewish nationalists in the strategic district near Jerusalem’s Old City.
Amid the rising tensions in Sheikh Jarrah, police forces were bolstered Friday in Jerusalem ahead of the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
At the nearby Temple Mount, tens of thousands gathered for afternoon prayers, with some worshipers waving flags of the Hamas terror group and reportedly calling for attacks on Israel.
The recent tensions in Sheikh Jarrah have raised fears of sparking a wider conflict, with the Gaza-ruling Hamas warning of renewed violence over the issue.
Additionally, tensions have also soared in the West Bank over the past week and on Friday three Palestinians opened fire at Border Police near a military base. Israeli forces shot two of the assailants dead and critically wounded the third.
All three attackers identified with Hamas, the Kan public broadcaster reported, citing Palestinian sources.
Officials have said they were planning a major attack, possibly in Jerusalem.
Along with the warnings from terror groups and denunciations of the Palestinian Authority, Israel is also facing growing international scrutiny over the pending evictions, which the United Nations on Friday said could be a “war crime.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement Friday pushing back on criticism of the pending evictions and accused the Palestinian Authority and terror organizations of fanning the tensions.
“Regrettably, the PA and Palestinian terror groups are presenting a real estate dispute between private parties, as a nationalistic cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem,” it said. “The PA and Palestinian terror groups will bear full responsibility for the violence emanating from their actions. The Israel police will ensure public order is maintained.”
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.
The neighborhood has long been a focal point of Jewish-Arab tensions. A small Jewish community lived in the area before 1948, when East Jerusalem fell under Jordanian control. Home to a shrine revered as the final resting place of Shimon Hatzadik, a third-century BCE high priest also known as Simeon the Just, the neighborhood is often visited by Jewish pilgrims.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it, in a move not recognized by most of the international community.
Agencies contributed to this report.