Israel fears Sheikh Jarrah clashes could spiral into fighting with Gaza again

Senior official traveling in prime minister’s delegation to Bahrain says tensions in Jerusalem neighborhood similar to situation ahead of last year’s 11-day war with Hamas

Medics look on as stun grenades and firecrackers go off during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on February 13, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Medics look on as stun grenades and firecrackers go off during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on February 13, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

MANAMA, Bahrain — Escalating tensions in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood could lead to a fresh round of violence with Gaza-based terrorists, a senior Israeli diplomatic official said Tuesday.

The flashpoint neighborhood has been the site of clashes in recent days after a Jewish home was firebombed over the weekend and far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir set up a “parliamentary office” in the predominantly Palestinian area to protest for an increased police presence.

Tensions last May in Sheikh Jarrah over the pending evictions of several Palestinian families helped fuel clashes in Jerusalem that kicked off an 11-days conflict between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group and deadly bouts of street violence between Arabs and Jews inside Israel.

Political leaders fear the clashes in Sheikh Jarrah may once again snowball into open fighting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Hamas warning of a “severe” response following the latest clashes.

“A deterioration in Sheikh Jarrah could lead to an escalation,” the official, part of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s entourage, told reporters traveling with the premier in Bahrain.

Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party traditionally supports Israeli Jews moving into Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem, but the official said the premier saw it as his responsibility to prevent a new round of fighting by calming the situation.

“There is a responsibility to prevent escalations that can lead to very difficult things… It’s no joke,” the official said.

Police disperse Jewish men protesting in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on February 13, 2022..(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The official also accused Ben Gvir and Joint List MKs Ahmad Tibi and Ofer Cassif of seeking to inflame the situation, echoing comments Bennett made Monday before departing for Bahrain.

“It’s known what brings them there,” the official said.

During the briefing, the official also addressed the thaw in ties with Turkey, saying Jerusalem was working “slowly” toward rebuilding relations with Ankara.

“The sides are working slowly. We’re approaching carefully, with gestures here and there, and indeed we can see that there is an increase in Turkish activity against Hamas terrorism,” the official said.

The official said Turkey’s increased pressure on Hamas was not based on any demand by Israel, which has bristled over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s warm relations with the Palestinian terror organization.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a pro-Palestinian rally in Istanbul, on May 18, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ozan Kose)

Earlier Tuesday, President Isaac Herzog confirmed he will soon visit Turkey.

Once robust regional allies, Israel and Turkey saw their ties fray during Erdogan’s tenure, during which the Turkish leader has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

The countries reciprocally withdrew their ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces boarded a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians that attempted to break an Israeli blockade. Though most of the participating vessels were boarded without incident, those onboard a Turkish ferry boat violently resisted the Israeli action, resulting in the eventual deaths of 10 Turkish activists.

Relations slowly improved but broke down again in 2018, after Turkey, angered by the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, once more recalled its envoy from Israel, prompting Israel to reciprocate.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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