Thousands of East Jerusalem residents took part in a symbolic funeral Friday for terrorist Ibrahim al-Akary, who plowed into pedestrians at a light rail station along the seam-line between East and West Jerusalem on Wednesday, killing a border policeman and a 17-year-old yeshiva student and injuring a dozen others.
Participants in the procession in the Shuafat neighbourhood, which followed Friday prayers, held signs which called al-Akary a “hero martyr” and urged Palestinians to “Keep on killing soldiers,” according to Ynet News.
Several violent incidents were reported in wake of the event, with some rioters hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces stationed in the area. Rock throwing and firebombs were also reported near the West Bank towns of Ramallah and Hebron.
In the Temple Mount itself, the central focus of the violence which has rocked Jerusalem for weeks, the day’s prayers ended peacefully and without incident and included around 15,000 Muslim worshippers.
On Friday, 1,300 Israeli riot police fanned out around the mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, sealing off access roads to enforce a government decision to bar Muslim men under the age of 35 from praying there. The age limit varies from Friday to Friday.
Riot police manned metal barricades, checking identity papers and directing pedestrians.
At one checkpoint in the Wadi Joz area, just outside the Old City, some 500 young Palestinians who were denied entry to the mosque compound because of their age performed prayers on a street, kneeling on carpets spread on the asphalt. They were faced by a row of riot police in black uniforms and helmets, as well as several officers on horseback.
“We are steadfast here,” said one of the worshippers, who only identified himself by his first name, Raed. “We pray here despite the Israeli restraints.”
In the Old City, 62-year-old Walid Mohammed blamed Israel for ratcheting up tensions in the area, as dozens of police officers patrolled nervously in front of his coffee shop.
“The arrogance of the Israeli government is the main cause of troubles in our country,” he said. “They want to control the al-Aqsa Mosque.” Mohammed blamed tensions on what he said were unfair access restrictions for Muslims at a time of a growing Jewish presence at the mosque compound.
Police said the age restrictions were enforced due to information that young instigators intended to cause trouble at the holy site.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies in Jerusalem on Thursday night, calling for a widespread operation to root out violence in the capital.
“A government that does not know how to regain deterrence and sovereignty and provide security for its citizens in their capital does not have a right to exist,” said the right-wing Jewish Home party leader.
“When did we become a nation of defense? Concrete barriers, fences and Iron Domes, security personnel on every corner, bomb shelters for every child — it’s time we carried out a ‘Defensive Shield’ in our capital,” added Bennett, referring to the 2002 extensive IDF operation at the height of the Second Intifada, which did much to destroy the West Bank’s terror infrastructure and reduce terror attacks against Israel.
Security officials said Friday they had arrested a rioter who was a former prisoner released in the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal, and whose actions were in direct violation of the conditions of his release. The man, a 40-year-old resident of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Tsur Baher, was detained overnight after being identified as a central instigator in a group of rioters. Officials said he would be brought before judges later in the day.
Tensions in the capital have been boiling in recent weeks, with East Jerusalem and West Bank residents demonstrating and rioting in response to their fears that Israel seeks to change the status quo of the Temple Mount and allow Jews to pray there. Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that no change to the status quo is planned.
The situation has also led to several Palestinian terror attacks and an assassination attempt against a prominent Israeli activist for Jewish prayer rights.
Netanyahu instructed officials Thursday to demolish the homes of the terrorists who had perpetrated attacks in Jerusalem, according to Israel Radio.
The prime minister called an emergency session Thursday on the clashes in Jerusalem, with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Police chief Yohanan Danino, and Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen in attendance.
During the meeting, Netanyahu called to implement more severe measures against terrorists and rioters, including destroying the homes of terrorists who committed attacks in Jerusalem, increasing administrative detentions and issuing additional restraining orders.
The prime minister’s directive came a day after an East Jerusalem man drove his van into a group of pedestrians at a light rail station in the capital, killing a Border Police officer and a 17-year-old yeshiva student and injuring a dozen other people. A similar hit-and-run attack took place two weeks earlier at another train station along the seam-line when an East Jerusalem man drove his car onto a platform, killing two and injuring several. Both attackers were killed by police.
On October 29, Temple Mount activist Rabbi Yehudah Glick was shot outside the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in central Jerusalem by an Arab employee of the center, who was later killed by police during an attempt to arrest him.
On Thursday evening, dozens of right-wing Jewish activists marched toward the Old City, as heavy clashes between police and Arab residents of East Jerusalem persisted.
“We are proudly marching with high heads to the direction of the Temple Mount. God willing, we’ll get there,” organizer Ariel Groner told AFP at the site where a Palestinian recently tried to assassinate Rabbi Yehudah Glick, a campaigner for Jewish prayer rights at the compound.
The worst Palestinian violence Thursday was concentrated in the Shuafat refugee camp where around 200 Arab youths hurled rocks and firecrackers at the security forces, who responded with tear gas, percussion grenades and rubber bullets, an AFP correspondent said. Police said that there were no damages or injuries in the incident.
Earlier Thursday, police closed off access to cars into the Abu Tor neighborhood, after stone-throwing Palestinians damaged six cars and a bus. There were no injuries reported in that attack, and police said they were searching for the culprits.
Under the present arrangement in the Temple Mount, the site remains under Jordan’s custodianship — as part of the 1994 peace agreement — and Jews are allowed in the compound, but are barred from religious worship or prayer.
Netanyahu has repeatedly stressed in past days that there will be no change to the present arrangement, and spoke Thursday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II to reiterate his stance.
The prime minister was seeking to avert a diplomatic crisis with its neighbor, after the Hashemite Kingdom responded angrily to the events on the Temple Mount in the past few days, turning to the UN to complain, recalling its ambassador, and threatening to reevaluate its ties and peace treaty with the Jewish state.
Arab-Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi (Ra’am-Ta’al) urged Europe to impose sanctions on Israel, in an address the European Union parliament in Brussels Thursday.
Invited to the parliament to discuss current Temple Mount tensions, Tibi claimed Israel is controlled by an extremist government backed by an even more extremist parliament.
“There are pyromaniacs in the government and in the Knesset,” Tibi said, asking EU parliament members for help in restraining them. Tibi specifically cited MKs Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) and Miri Regev (Likud) as arsonists determined to inflame Jerusalem.
Tibi blamed Israel and Netanyahu for the volatile situation in the capital. “Netanyahu continues to build settlements, including in Jerusalem,” Tibi told the European Union representatives, asking them to stop the prime minister through sanctions and pressure. “The continued construction and expropriation of land impedes any possibility of a two-state solution,” Tibi added.
AP contributed to this report.