UAE condemns Jewish extremists’ violence in Jerusalem, calls for restraint

Rare condemnation of Israel since signing of peace deal comes after intense clashes between Palestinians and law enforcement in Jerusalem, as well as a far-right Jewish march

Police stand in front of demonstrators from the Lehava Jewish extremist group at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, on April 22, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Police stand in front of demonstrators from the Lehava Jewish extremist group at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, on April 22, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The United Arab Emirates on Sunday called on Israel to reduce tensions in Jerusalem and condemned a recent march by an extremist Jewish group in the city.

The statement was a rare criticism of Israel from the Arab nation since the two countries signed a normalization agreement last year and have been pushing ahead with increasingly warm ties.

“The United Arab Emirates has expressed concern over the acts of violence committed by right-wing extremist groups in the occupied East Jerusalem, which have resulted in injuries among civilians,” the statement said.

The UAE “called upon the Israeli authorities to assume responsibility toward de-escalation and putting an end to all aggressions and practices that perpetuate tension and hostility,” the statement said.

It also underlined “the necessity of preserving the historical identity of the occupied city of Jerusalem.”

Israeli police and Palestinian men gather in a plaza outside of Jerusalem’s Old City, Sunday, April 25, 2021. Israeli police late Sunday removed barricades outside Jerusalem’s Old City that had prevented Muslims from meeting in a traditional gathering spot during the holy month of Ramadan. The barricades have sparked nightly clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police, and their removal appeared to be aimed at easing the tensions. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The UAE statement did not mention the escalation in violence from Hamas, which has been firing rockets into Israel for the past three days from Gaza, also in response to the Jerusalem clashes.

The UAE signed the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords with Israel, breaking a long-standing Arab position that peace could only come after Israel reached a deal with the Palestinians, partially in return for an Israeli commitment not to carry out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex West Bank settlements and a large swath of the Jordan Valley.

Israel captured the eastern sector of Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites, in the 1967 Six Day War, and later annexed those areas as part of a united capital. The Palestinians still claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

The Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism where the biblical temples stood, and which now houses the Muslim holy sites, the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine, have been a frequent flashpoint in the Arab Israeli conflict.

The UAE’s call came as hundreds of Palestinians celebrated outside the Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday evening after police ceased a controversial policy that barred Muslim worshipers from congregating in the area during the holy month of Ramadan.

Palestinians celebrate after Israeli police remove a series of barriers that prevented crowds gathering at the Old City’s Damascus Gate, April 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Thousands of Palestinians had descended on the flashpoint area each night since Ramadan began on April 13 to protest the policy, which had seen the basin outside Damascus Gate filled with dozens of police divider fences, along with armed officers ordered to prevent anyone from sitting on the steps.

Police ordered the scrapping of the policy on Sunday.

Footage from Damascus Gate showed the area packed with visitors, as it had been in previous years, cheering and whistling in victory.

The atmosphere contrasted starkly from that of previous nights, which have featured violent clashes.

More than 105 Palestinians were wounded late Thursday in clashes with police who found themselves in the middle of the Arab demonstrators and a mob of hundreds of Jewish extremists marching toward Damascus Gate, chanting “Death to Arabs,” “May your village burn,” and other hateful slogans.

Police used riot dispersal measures against both crowds, but reserved more severe means, including rubber bullets, for the Palestinian mob.

Jerusalem has also seen a series of viral videos on the social network TikTok, which appear to show Palestinians attacking ultra-Orthodox Jews without any provocation. The clips have fueled Jewish anger.

The racist Lehava group, which led the Jewish protests, said in a statement that it would not be reconvening outside Damascus Gate on Sunday night, and instead would be offering Krav Maga classes for its activists. However, the group said that it would be prepared to take to the streets “to protect Jews, if police failed to do their job.”

Palestinians chant slogans as they burn tires during a rally in Gaza City in support of demonstrators in Jerusalem on April 24, 2021. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Earlier Sunday evening, three Arab sanitation workers were attacked by a group of Jewish youths on Ben Sira Street in downtown Jerusalem.

One of the suspects was arrested, police said, adding that they found a knife on him. Officers were engaging in a manhunt for the remaining assailants.

Hours earlier, a Jewish Israeli distributing religious booklets at a junction outside the mixed town of Ramle was assaulted by an Arab teen. The 19-year-old suspect was apprehended shortly thereafter by police.

The victim received treatment for minor injuries at nearby Assaf Harofeh Medical Center.

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