Israel on high alert for ‘day of rage,’ but no Temple Mount restrictions

Tens of thousands expected to take part in protests against the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Israeli forces were on high alert anticipating widespread unrest and protests after Friday prayers in Jerusalem and the West Bank, as Palestinians called for a “day of rage” to voice their opposition to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Police deployed forces in Jerusalem but had no immediate plans to impose restrictions on Muslim worshipers praying on the flash-point Temple Mount for Friday prayers. The IDF brought in hundreds of reinforcements to the West Bank.

Security assessments expected tens of thousands to take part in the Friday protests and the IDF was particularly concerned that “lone wolf” attackers could try to carry out terror attacks, the Ynet news site reported.

Soldiers were being stationed at potential confrontation points during the day and some were later to move to bolster security to prevent any attempts to carry out attacks on settlements over the Sabbath, the report said.

Early Friday, stones were thrown at several vehicles along Route 443, a main road leading to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv that runs through the West Bank. The cars were lightly damaged, but no injuries were reported.

Despite the heightened alert, police said they did not plan to limit Muslim prayers at the Temple Mount to just women and men over 60, a standard practice during times of tension.

“As of now,” no such limits are being prepared, a police spokesperson told the Times of Israel. “If there is any indication that there will be violent protests, then an age limit might possibly be implemented,” spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said.

“Police and border police units will be in all areas and patrol neighborhoods throughout to prevent any further spreading of the disturbances,” he added.

Trump’s speech Wednesday was warmly welcomed by Israel but sparked outrage among the Palestinians, and there were protests across the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip on Thursday.

At various locations around the West Bank and Gaza, hundreds of Palestinians held demonstrations against the move, setting fires, chanting and clashing with troops. Demonstrators also burned posters of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Israeli and American flags.

Dozens of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were reported injured, mostly from tear gas inhalation and Israeli rubber bullets, but also some from live rounds.

On Thursday, Hamas terror group leader Ismail Haniyeh called for a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising. The Palestinian Authority canceled classes for its West Bank school system for Thursday, in an apparent attempt to get more young Palestinians to clash with Israeli troops. Shops were shuttered to begin three “days of rage” over Trump’s decision.

In light of a “situational assessment by the IDF General Staff,” the army said it “decided that a number of battalions will reinforce the area of [the West Bank], as well as combat intelligence and territorial defense units.”

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, center, meets with top officers in the West Bank on December 6, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military would not specify the number of additional battalions being sent to the West Bank as reinforcements.

On Wednesday, the Israel Police also announced that it would be deploying officers throughout the capital, including sites where violence regularly breaks out, like the Old City’s Damascus Gate, where a demonstration took place Thursday. Over a hundred protesters scuffled with security forces, mostly nonviolently save for some light pushing and shoving. There were no reports of injuries or arrests.

Clashes in Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem

Also Thursday, Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip, near the cities of Rafah and Khan Younis, rolled burning tires and threw rocks at the security fence and the Israeli troops on the other side of it, the army said.

The Israeli soldiers initially responded with tear gas and rubber bullets to push the demonstrators back. When “main instigators” continued advancing toward the fence, the troops fired warning shots in the air and when they continued, the soldiers shot live rounds at them, injuring several, an IDF spokesperson said.

Palestinian media reported that four rioters sustained gunshot wounds.

Border Police officers spray a foul-smelling liquid toward Palestinian protesters during a violent demonstration in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on December 7, 2017. (Screen capture: Al-Mayadeen News)

In Bethlehem, hundreds of Palestinians squared off against dozens of Border Police officers, separated from each other by a long stretch of empty road.

The protesters threw rocks and set tires ablaze. Israeli troops, in full riot gear, used a water cannon that shoots a foul-smelling liquid — known as “the Skunk” — at the mostly masked demonstrators and also occasionally fired rubber bullets toward the crowd.

The ground near the clash was littered with thrown rocks and other detritus, and the air was filled with smoke from Israeli tear gas and Palestinian tire fires.

One Palestinian in Bethlehem was injured by a rubber bullet, and five others were treated for tear gas inhalation, the Red Crescent said.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli forces near a checkpoint in the West Bank city of Ramallah, December 7, 2017. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

A large demonstration was also held in the West Bank city of Ramallah, which is the seat of the Palestinian Authority government. Channel 10 news reported that some of those in the crowd called for torching the offices of US representatives in the city and burned photos of Trump.

According to the Red Crescent, four of the rioters were hit by live rounds and two by rubber bullets. Three suffered from tear gas inhalation.

In the city of Tulkarem, eight Palestinian protesters were hit by rubber bullets and 11 were treated for tear gas inhalation, the Palestinian ambulance service said.

Israel closed the Gilboa Crossing in the northern West Bank after Palestinians threw rocks at it during a violent demonstration, the Defense Ministry said.

“The reopening of the crossing will be dependent upon situational assessments,” the ministry added.

Small clashes were also reported in the cities of Nablus and Qalqilya.

In the Shuafat refugee camp, one person was hit by a rubber bullet during a violent demonstration there, the Red Crescent said.

Between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails onto a road near the Israeli West Bank city of Ma’ale Adumim, causing no injuries or damage. Border Police in the area arrested 10 suspects, the report said.

Rioters also threw Molotov cocktails and stones at Israeli cars on a road near the West Bank village of Rantis, outside Ramallah. There were no reports of injuries.

US President Donald Trump delivers a statement on Jerusalem as US Vice President Mike Pence looks on in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on December 6, 2017. (Madel Ngan/AFP)

In a Wednesday address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality. The move was hailed by Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

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