Thousands protest in Israel, West Bank after Friday prayers

1,500 demonstrate in Umm al-Fahm, dozens breach security fence north of Jerusalem; no incidents reported at Temple Mount, where 40,000 pray

Police stand guard as Palestinian Muslim worshipers make their way to the al-Aqsa Mosque in the Temple Mount compound for Friday prayers, November 14, 2014 (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police stand guard as Palestinian Muslim worshipers make their way to the al-Aqsa Mosque in the Temple Mount compound for Friday prayers, November 14, 2014 (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Around 1,500 Israeli Arabs demonstrated Friday afternoon in the town of Umm al-Fahm, east of Hadera, protesting the police’s killing of an Arab man in Kafr Kanna last week and the ongoing turmoil in Jerusalem. Among the participants were MKs Hanin Zoabi (Balad) and Afu Agbaria (Hadash) as well as Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the radical wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

In a speech, Zoabi charged that the killing of Kheir Hamdan a week ago stemmed from the declaration by Israel’s Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, following a series of a terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, that such incidents should end with the death of the terrorist.

Several hundred people also demonstrated in nearby Kafr Qara, Ynet reported.

At the Temple Mount in Jerusalem — where Israel allowed unrestricted access for Muslim worshipers for the first time in several weeks, as part of new efforts to ease tensions promised by Israel — 40,000 Muslims dispersed peacefully after Friday prayers.

Also Friday, around 300 Palestinians hurled rocks and burned tires at a protest in Hebron, in the West Bank. Security forces said they used rubber bullets and other non-lethal means to disperse the crowds.

Hundreds of Palestinian protesters also briefly blocked a road near Hizme, north of Jerusalem on Friday and threw rocks at security forces. The latter dispersed the protesters using stun grenades after they failed to leave voluntarily, police said.

In yet another incident, several dozen people breached the security barrier near Kalandiya, north of Jerusalem, in an act of protest, using tools to cut the fence or climb over it, Ynet reported. However, the protesters later returned over the line.

Meanwhile Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch visited Kafr Kanna for the first time since the death late last Friday night of resident Hamdan, met with local leaders and demanded they calm resident’s spirits and prevent clashes with police.

Hamdan, 22, was shot and killed after police said he tried to stab an officer, while residents claim he was killed in cold blood. A video of the incident showed Hamdan as he appeared to attack a police vehicle, apparently brandishing a knife, but it also showed him retreating before being shot. His father, in a Channel 2 report Friday, denied that Hamdan held a knife, however.

Despite a joint Israeli, Jordanian and American effort coordinated with the Palestinian Authority to restore calm through confidence-building steps, the official Palestinian television channel called on its Facebook page for a day of “revolution, fire and rage” and urged supporters to march to Jerusalem.

In the Temple Mount itself, the heart of much of the conflict in recent weeks, there were no reports of violence. Police had prepared for possible flare-ups there following their announcement Thursday that there would be no age restrictions on Muslim worshipers for weekly prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque Friday, for the first time in weeks.

The decision followed a trilateral meeting in Amman on Thursday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and US Secretary of State John Kerry, after which the top American diplomat said steps had been agreed upon to lower tensions between Israel and the Palestinians over Jerusalem’s contested holy site.

It was not immediately clear if the eased restrictions on Temple Mount prayers was one such step.

“Firm commitments” were made to maintain the status quo at the compound, Kerry said at a press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was not in attendance, but met with Kerry beforehand. Kerry said it was “not the right moment” for Abbas and Netanyahu to meet. Kerry said Abbas had promised to “do his utmost” to reduce tensions and to halt incitement against Israel.

Israel and Jordan, which has custodial rights at the compound, also agreed to take steps to “deescalate the situation” in Jerusalem and to “restore confidence,” Kerry added. “We are not going to lay out each practical step; it is more important they be done in a quiet and effective way.”

Judeh said Amman would review its decision to recall its envoy to Israel, based on Jerusalem’s implementation of its commitments to restore calm.

Restrictions on male worshipers have been imposed on recent Fridays. The police have, on occasion, barred access to the site to Palestinian men under 35 years of age, fearing unrest and riots. There have been times the restrictions have included all men under 50. Females of all ages have been allowed access to the site.

Aharonovitch said Thursday that unrest in Israel and the West Bank was likely to continue, albeit at a lower simmer.

Aharonovitch noted that recent days had seen a drop in rioting, attributing the improvement to decisive action by police against violent protesters. But he warned that fresh attacks by so-called lone-wolf terrorists, acting impulsively without instruction from terror organizations, remained possible.

Israel has deployed hundreds of police reinforcements to the capital in recent weeks in response to the unrest in East Jerusalem, which has also spread to the West Bank and Arab communities across Israel, raising fears of a new Palestinian uprising.

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the al-Aqsa compound, is the holiest site in Judaism, and the third-holiest in Islam. It has been a source of increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians: A number of violent clashes between security forces and Palestinian demonstrators, four terror attacks that killed six Israelis, and an attempted assassination of a Temple Mount activist have taken place in just under a month.

AFP and AP contributed to this report. 

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