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UN envoy 'alarmed' by Jerusalem, Gaza violence

Fresh clashes between Israel Police, Palestinians in East Jerusalem, West Bank

Violent confrontations near Old City, Rachel’s Tomb, Qalandiya checkpoint, a day after rioting by Arabs and Jews; US Embassy issues security alert for personnel; 4 cops injured

Israeli police officers clash with protestors in East Jerusalem on April 23, 2021 (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
Israeli police officers clash with protestors in East Jerusalem on April 23, 2021 (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Fresh clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem and its outskirts on Friday night, a day after the capital saw violent skirmishes involving Jews and Arabs near the Old City.

After calm during daylight hours on Friday, scuffles broke out again as thousands of Muslim worshipers left the al-Aqsa Mosque compound after evening prayers.

Clashes broke out between worshipers and police, with water bottles hurled at officers who fired stun grenades to disperse the crowd.

Police said Saturday morning that four officers were injured during clashes and were treated on the scene.

A Palestinian protester runs from Israeli security forces outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 23, 2021 (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

According to the Ynet new site, several dozen Palestinian teens gathered near Israel’s Justice Ministry headquarters on Salah al-Din Street in East Jerusalem, by the Old City, and hurled stones toward the premises.

At Rachel’s Tomb, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the West Bank, dozens of youths threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the shrine, police said. They said forces guarding the area used “riot dispersal means to restore order.”

Police said hundreds of Palestinians rioted at the Qalandiya crossing between Jerusalem and Ramallah, adding that reinforcements were being sent to the area. The official Palestinian news agency Wafa said Israeli forces were using rubber-tipped bullets, tear gas and stun grenades against the protesters.

Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian protester outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 23, 2021 (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Also Friday night the Magen David Adom ambulance service said it had treated a 22-year-old Israeli who was lightly wounded in the head by stone-throwing in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood.

The United States voiced alarm over the violence in Jerusalem and criticized “hateful” rhetoric after far-right Jews shouted slogans against Palestinians.

“We are deeply concerned by the escalation of violence in Jerusalem,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “The rhetoric of extremist protestors chanting hateful and violent slogans must be firmly rejected,” he wrote on Twitter.

On Saturday morning, after 36 rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, the UN special envoy for the Middle East process, Tor Wennesland, said that he was “alarmed” by the escalation in violence in Jerusalem and around the Strip.

“The provocative acts across Jerusalem must cease. The indiscriminate launching of rockets towards Israeli population centers violates international law and must stop immediately,” Wennesland said in a statement.

The renewed clashes came a day after dozens of people were injured when violent clashes erupted near Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem late Thursday as Palestinian protesters confronted a group of some 300 far-right Jewish activists who marched to the spot chanting “Death to Arabs.” Police, trying to keep the groups apart, also clashed with the Palestinians, who threw rocks at the officers.

On Friday evening, the US embassy issued to security alert to its diplomats and citizens to try and avoid the area.

“Protests and violence may continue to occur, some with little or no warning. Embassy personnel have been advised to maintain situational awareness and avoid the area, the statement said.

“The Embassy strongly encourages US citizens to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness, as security incidents often take place without warning.”

Ramadan prayers on Friday at al-Aqsa on the flashpoint Temple Mount passed peacefully. Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, condemned the “police and settlers’ attack on Palestinians in Jerusalem” in his Friday sermon. But he called on worshipers to remain calm and not to give the other side “an excuse” to storm the compound. They dispersed peacefully after prayers and there were no reports of unrest.

Muslims attend Friday prayers on the second Friday of the muslim holy month of Ramadan, at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 23, 2021 (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

However, in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas terror group staged a series of rallies, urging Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank o take up arms to “liberate” the land and “protect our holy sites.”

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan normally sees increased tensions around the Old City, which houses the Temple Mount site, holy to both Jews and Muslims.

Residents braced for possible further unrest as police stepped up security and the US Embassy, United Nations and Jordan all called for calm.

Also Friday, several hundred Arab Israelis held a solidarity rally in Jaffa, which has also been the scene of clashes between Arabs and Jews in recent days. The protest, attended by several Arab lawmakers, was peaceful.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana held consultations Friday afternoon with police and security officials amid fears of continued violence, telling officers they had his full support to use any necessary force.

Following the meeting, Ohana wrote in a Facebook post that security forces had “complete backing to use all means, force and the necessary power to restore law and order.”

Ohana condemned recent Palestinian attacks against Jews in Jerusalem and Jaffa, but did not mention violence carried out by Jews against Arabs.

Members of the Israeli security forces deploy during clashes with Palestinian protesters outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 22, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Late Thursday, officers used riot dispersal means including stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons to break up the Arab protestors. At least 105 Palestinians were injured, including 22 who were hospitalized, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

Police said some 20 officers were injured in the clashes, including a mounted officer hit in the face by a rock. Three were taken for medical treatment.

Police also said over 50 people were arrested for throwing rocks, launching fireworks, assaulting cops and other violent acts during the rioting, which carried into early Friday.

Jerusalem has seen several days of violence after a number of assaults on Jews that were filmed and later uploaded to the TikTok video-sharing app, including one of an East Jerusalem teenager slapping two ultra-Orthodox boys on the light rail.

In response, the Jewish extremist Lehava group had called for a protest Thursday in a show of “national honor.”

Israeli border police block members of “Lahava,” a Jewish extremist group, approaching Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem’s Old City, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Some 300 activists from the Lehava group took part in the march that brought them to within a few dozen meters of Damascus Gate where Palestinians had gathered in a counter-protest, and violence ensued. Lehava protestors chanted “Death to the Arabs!” and “Arabs get out!” as police tried to keep the two sides apart while also dealing with attacks from the Palestinian protestors.

Though police had deployed hundreds of officers ahead of the march to prevent it from reaching its destination, dozens of Lehava protesters were able to reach the Palestinian crowd and the two sides began throwing objects at each other.

Police eventually moved in to separate the crowds, positioning mounted officers to hold back the Lehava demonstration that was led by Bentzi Gopstein, the group’s chief.

Clashes between Jews and Arabs at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on April 22, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

After being blocked by police forces from reaching the Old City, several dozen Lehava supporters marched up to the nearby Mahane Yehuda market where they attacked several Arab workers, police said. Police officers rescued the workers who took refuge in a shop.

According to police, far-right Jewish extremists also hurled stones and set a trash can ablaze at an intersection. Video posted to social media from the scene showed Jewish youths attacking an Arab home just inside the Old City.

The sounds of children crying can be heard as a woman, unseen, shouts “Stop” in Arabic while several youths throw objects at the home.

In one incident overnight, police said a Jewish motorist was attacked in East Jerusalem and stones were thrown at his car. When he tried to flee on foot, he was caught and beaten by several people. His car was later set on fire.

Video on social media showed him being repeatedly kicked as he lay on the floor. Police said he had been hospitalized.

Police said they were searching for suspects.

The motorist who was attacked, 46-year-old Yahya Jardi, recalled thinking he wouldn’t make it out alive.

“I stood in a traffic jam and they started throwing stones at me, at the window, they beat me, they wanted to kill me. I thought I would die,” he told Ynet from his hospital bed.

In another late-night Thursday incident, an Israeli security guard fired warning shots in the air after he allegedly came under attack near the Justice Ministry offices on Salah al-Din Street. Video on social media showed the moment he began to shoot, before driving off.

According to a Channel 13 report, the guard, who came from the ministry compound, was assaulted and had his windscreen smashed by rioters and was hit in the head with a stone before firing the shots. He was unharmed.

The report said justice officials met Friday to discuss how to better protect institutions on the street, which is also house to the Jerusalem District Court, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial is being held.

Along with the ethnic tensions, Jerusalem has seen regular clashes over the past week between Palestinian residents and police who have been blocking Palestinians from sitting on the steps of Damascus Gate. In an unofficial Jerusalem tradition, thousands of Palestinians sit in the area following nighttime prayers during Ramadan.

Police have deployed water cannons and stun grenades to disperse crowds while rioters have hurled stones and set off fireworks at cops.

Israeli border police detain an Israeli youth as members of “Lahava”, a Jewish extremist group, as they try to approach to Damascus Gate to protest amid heightened tensions in the city, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City, Thursday, April. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Lehava opposes intermarriage and assimilation of Jews with non-Jews, as well as LGBT rights, and tries to stifle any public activity by non-Jews in Israel, including coexistence events. Lawmakers across the political spectrum have tried to designate it a terrorist group and its leader has been barred from running for the Knesset.

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