US: 'Absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint'

Hamas said to reject Israeli deescalation message sent via Egyptian mediators

Terror group reportedly charges Jerusalem clashes show Israel doesn’t want to reduce tensions; Palestinian newspaper says Gaza terror groups to restart nightly border riot units

Palestinians holding Hamas movement green flags attend a protest in solidarity with Muslim worshipers in Jerusalem, in Gaza City, April 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Palestinians holding Hamas movement green flags attend a protest in solidarity with Muslim worshipers in Jerusalem, in Gaza City, April 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Hamas has rejected a message sent by Israel via Egyptian mediators calling to prevent a further escalation of violence and a potential deterioration into a wide-ranging conflict, a Lebanese newspaper reported on Saturday.

According to the report in the Al-Akhbar daily, widely considered a mouthpiece for Hezbollah, Israel sent the message to Hamas through the Egyptian mediators who have held talks with officials from the terror group over the past two days.

However, according to the report cited by the Kan public broadcaster, Hamas responded that “events on the ground” showed that Israel does not wish for a de-escalation and that therefore a truce between the sides was unlikely in the near future.

A separate report in the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper, also cited by Kan, said that Palestinian factions in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip were planning to reactivate the so-called “nightly confusion units” which riot along the security fence.

Land in southern Israel, near the Gaza border, burnt by incendiary balloons sent from Gaza. (Moshe Baruchi/KKL-JNF/Courtesy)

The riot units would be in addition to the uptick in balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Strip — recent days have seen over a dozen fires sparked in the Gaza border area.

The reports came in the wake of Friday’s clashes in Jerusalem between Palestinians and the Israel Police, in which some 200 Palestinians and 17 officers were wounded.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Arab Israelis were expected to hold mass protests on Saturday in the wake of the violence.

The Hamas terror group’s official media outlet said Gaza-based groups were calling for demonstrations near the border fence with Israel on Saturday in protest of Israeli actions in Jerusalem.

Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh said that Israel would “pay a price” for the clashes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. The hilltop on which it sits is the holiest place in the world for Jews as the site of the two biblical temples — making it a flashpoint for nationalist sentiment and violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

“We tell [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu: don’t play with fire. This is a battle that you cannot win. Israeli arrogance and tyranny will be smashed on the stones of the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Haniyeh said.

Israeli riot police at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 7, 2021 (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Islamic Jihad, a terror group that often fires rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory, also threatened Israel over the Al-Aqsa clashes.

“What’s happening in Jerusalem tonight cannot pass idly by. The enemy can expect our response at any moment,” said Islamic Jihad chief Ziyad al-Nakhaleh.

The Arab High Follow-Up Committee, a body that represents Arab Israelis, called for protests in Arab towns and cities across the country in response to the violence.

Israeli police burst into the Al-Aqsa compound on Friday evening after Palestinians threw rocks and bottles at officers, as widespread clashes in Jerusalem spread to the holy site following prayers held there on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Footage from the scene showed pitched battles, with Palestinians throwing chairs, shoes, rocks and bottles and shooting fireworks, and police responding with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets.

In one video, a stun grenade is seen detonating inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, after it was apparently launched into the building by Israeli security forces.

Earlier in the evening, a Border Police officer was filmed throwing a stun grenade toward a crowd that included children.

Police said in the early hours of Saturday morning that 17 police officers were hurt in the clashes, and around half of those were hospitalized with one in moderate condition after taking a rock to the head.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Red Crescent reported that at least 205 Palestinians were wounded in clashes throughout Jerusalem, mostly around the Temple Mount and by Damascus Gate. Eighty-eight Palestinians were hospitalized, mostly for injuries with rubber-coated steel bullets, it said.

Israeli forces carry out a search in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem, May 7, 2021 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The United States said Saturday it was “extremely concerned” by the events in Jerusalem, calling on officials from all sides to deescalate the tensions.

“We call on Israeli and Palestinian officials to act decisively to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence,” the US State Department statement read. “It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount – in word and in practice. Leaders across the spectrum must denounce all violent acts.”

The State Department added that it was “deeply concerned” about the potential eviction of families from Sheikh Jarrah, as well as condemning Friday’s attack on soldiers by Palestinian gunmen and reciprocal so-called “price tag” attacks.

Israeli riot police deployed next to the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 7, 2021 (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Tensions have been rising across Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza for the past several weeks. Israeli yeshiva student Yehuda Guetta was shot in a Palestinian terror attack in the West Bank earlier this week; he died of his wounds on Wednesday night.

A 16-year-old Palestinian teenager, Said Odeh, was shot and killed by Israeli forces near Nablus on Wednesday night, Palestinian health officials said. According to the Israeli military, Odeh was throwing Molotov cocktails at troops.

An Israeli soldier stands guard as the bodies of two Palestinian attackers, who opened fire and were killed by Israeli security forces, lie on the ground in front of the IDF military base of Salem near the West Bank town of Jenin, on May 7, 2021. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Earlier Friday, three Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Border Police troops in the northern West Bank. Two of them were killed in the firefight and a third was critically injured. Israeli military officials said the three were en route to carry out a “major” terrorist attack on civilians inside Israel, with reports saying they were heading for Jerusalem.

At the beginning of Ramadan, Palestinians repeatedly clashed with Israeli police in Jerusalem in protest of restrictions at the Damascus Gate area. Some videos also circulated on Palestinian social media showing young Arab men attacking Ultra-Orthodox passersby.

In response, hundreds of Jewish extremists marched through Jerusalem’s downtown, chanting “Death to Arabs.” Others randomly attacked Palestinians across the city. This then led to severe clashes between police, Jews and Arabs in the city.

In recent days, Palestinians have held demonstrations in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Over 70 Palestinian residents are threatened with eviction and could be replaced by right-wing Jewish nationalists, in a legal battle being waged in the courts.

Israeli forces stands guard outside a home of a Jewish family during a protest against Israel’s plan to demolish some houses of Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on May 5, 2021. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90

The United Nations urged Israel on Friday to call off any pending evictions in East Jerusalem, warning that its actions could amount to “war crimes.”

However, Iran on Saturday urged the United Nations to declare Israel’s actions in Jerusalem to be a “war crime.”

Iran “condemns the attack on Al-Aqsa mosque by the Quds [Jerusalem] occupier regime’s military,” foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement. “This war crime once again proved to the world the criminal nature of the illegitimate Zionist regime.”

Iran “calls on the United Nations and other related international institutions to act on their definite duty to confront this war crime,” he said.

Israel has dismissed the Sheikh Jarrah tensions as a “real estate dispute.”

An Israeli court has ordered the families to leave, as the property was owned by a Jewish religious association before 1948. A 1970 Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim property in East Jerusalem from before it fell into Jordanian hands; no similar law exists for Palestinians.

Palestinians and their supporters have protested the pending evictions every night for the past week. Police have sought to disperse the protests with stun grenades and water cannons, leading to injuries and arrests.

The families have asked the Israeli Supreme Court to consider an appeal, which it is scheduled to do on Monday.

There are growing fears that tensions in Jerusalem could come to a head on Saturday night, Laylat al-Qadr, the most sacred night in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshipers will gather for nighttime prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Sunday night is the start of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in which Israel celebrates the unification of Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city.

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