Israel braces for new violence as Hamas declares ‘Day of Rage’
Police limit access to Temple Mount for Friday prayers; security forces announce bolstered presence in Jerusalem
Israel is preparing for an outbreak of fresh violence on Friday, after another week of deadly attacks and clashes with Palestinians across the country and in the West Bank.
Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip but has a lesser presence in the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank, has called for another “Day of Rage” on Friday and for Palestinians to march on Israeli checkpoints after noon prayers. Hamas had also called for a “Day of Rage” on Tuesday, when three Israelis were killed and several others wounded in a series of attacks in Jerusalem and Ra’anana.
Police announced Thursday night that access to Friday prayers to the flashpoint Temple Mount, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, would be restricted to Muslim men over 40 and women of all ages. A similar restriction was put in place last week.
The Palestinians claim that Israel plans to change the status quo at the site, which is holy to Jews and Muslims but where Jews are allowed to visit but not pray. Israel has repeatedly denied the accusation, which has been a key factor in the ongoing violence.
Jerusalem district police chief Moshe Edri said Thursday that there would continue to be a beefed-up presence of officers in the capital, in particular in sensitive areas such as streets in the Old City that lead to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.
The Israel Defense Forces also said Thursday that it will deploy 300 soldiers in the streets of Jerusalem to help police maintain order. After Tuesday’s deadly attacks, Israel also erected concrete barriers and checkpoints outside some Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
The army said that the soldiers will help guard public transportation and the city’s main arteries.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke Thursday with US Secretary of State John Kerry, telling the top American diplomat that he would try to reduce the tensions in Israel and the West Bank. Haaretz reported that Abbas’s bureau has been passing messages to Israel via PA intelligence chief Majd Freij.
In remarks to American public radio aired Thursday, Kerry warned Abbas against making inciting remarks, saying that the Palestinians had to understand that there was never any justification for violence.
Early Friday morning, PA security forces broke up a riot at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, where a group of some 100 Palestinians had started a fire.
AP and AFP contributed to this report