Israel pushes back against US ‘concern’ over Jerusalem violence

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat tells US counterpart that international intervention is only rewarding those who are provoking rioting

Israeli National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat (right), and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. (Flash90, AP)
Israeli National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat (right), and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. (Flash90, AP)

Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat pushed back when his US counterpart told him on Sunday that Washington was concerned over violent clashes between security forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem.

According to media reports, Ben-Shabbat told US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan during a phone call that international intervention in the events, which have seen daily rioting in the Old City and other locations in the capital, is only rewarding those who are inciting the unrest.

Israel is handling the events “out of a position of sovereignty, responsibly, and with common sense despite the provocations,” Ben Shabbat said, according to a diplomatic source familiar with the conversation who was cited by Hebrew media reports.

Ben Shabbat went on to say international interference was “a prize for the rioters and those sending them who hoped to put pressure on Israel.”

He told Sullivan that it would be more helpful if the pressure were directed at those who were inciting the violence.

Sullivan had called Ben Shabbat to discuss Washington’s “serious concerns about the situation in Jerusalem, including violent confrontations at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount during the last days of Ramadan,” according to a White House readout.

The phone call came hours before the scheduled annual march of thousands of Jewish nationalists through the Old City as part of Jerusalem Day celebrations, which some security officials fear may cause the situation to boil over.

Without giving details, Sullivan noted recent engagement by senior US officials with Israeli and Palestinian counterparts along with key regional stakeholders in an effort to restore calm, the White House readout said.

Sullivan “also reiterated the United States’ serious concerns about the potential evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood,” the statement said, referring to one of the key issues behind the mass protests in East Jerusalem over the past week.

The sides “agreed that the launching of rocket attacks and incendiary balloons from Gaza towards Israel is unacceptable and must be condemned,” the readout said. Terror groups have resumed attacks on Israel, saying it is in support of Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Sullivan encouraged Ben-Shabbat “to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations,” in an apparent reference to Monday’s scheduled “Flag March,” which celebrates Israeli claims to the city.

Palestinian gather at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound on Jerusalem Day, May 10, 2021. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Joe Biden’s national security adviser went on to express the US “commitment to Israel’s security and to supporting peace and stability throughout the Middle East, and assured Mr. Ben-Shabbat that the US will remain fully engaged in the days ahead to promote calm in Jerusalem.”

The UN Security Council was to convene an emergency session on Monday morning to discuss the escalating violence in Jerusalem.

The closed-door session will convene following a request from Tunisia, three security council diplomats told The Times of Israel. Such unscheduled meetings are not entirely rare, and the 15-member body has met under such circumstances several times this year to discuss escalations in Myanmar and Ethiopia.

However, Monday’s session is not likely to result in any type of resolution or joint statement, two of the diplomats speculated, noting that the council’s members have entrenched and often opposing views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that make consensus-building difficult.

Unrest in the capital continued Monday with hundreds of Palestinians rioting on the Temple Mount in the Old City and pelting a nearby road with rocks, then clashing with police who poured into the compound to disperse the crowds. The Palestinian Red Crescent said hundreds were injured in the confrontations.

The latest violence came as authorities decided to bar Jews Monday from entering the flashpoint holy site, the most sacred place in Judaism, to mark Jerusalem Day, due to the spiraling tensions.

Police were also set to rule on whether to allow the Flag March through the capital, amid warnings from security officials that the march could lead to a further escalation in violence.

Jewish men dance with Israeli flags at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City on the eve of Jerusalem Day, May 9, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli police faced off with Palestinian protesters Sunday in another night of clashes in East Jerusalem amid soaring tensions at the Temple Mount and in a nearby Arab neighborhood where Jewish ultranationalists are hoping to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes.

A Palestinian protester does a handstand next to a fire which was set on a road during clashes with Israeli police near Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem’s Old City on May 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Jerusalem Day celebrates Israel’s capture from Jordan of East Jerusalem, home to the Old City and its sensitive holy sites, in the 1967 Six Day War. But the annual march is widely perceived as provocative, as hardline nationalist Israelis, guarded by police, march through the Damascus Gate of the Old City and through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

This year the march coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of heightened religious sensitivities, and follows weeks of clashes.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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