UN Security Council to meet on Jerusalem violence in 4th emergency session in months

Closed meeting will take place Thursday at request of UAE, the Arab League’s representative on the top UN panel; US expresses ‘extreme concern’ over Israeli-Palestinian tensions

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Israeli security forces remove Palestinian Muslim worshipers sitting on the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, early on April 5, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Israeli security forces remove Palestinian Muslim worshipers sitting on the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, early on April 5, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The United Nations Security Council will convene an emergency session on Thursday to discuss recent violence in Jerusalem where Israeli police clashed with Muslim worshipers at the Temple Mount, fighting that was followed by rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and IDF counterstrikes.

Thursday’s session will take place behind closed doors and was called by the United Arab Emirates — the Arab League’s representative on the council — and China, two UN diplomats for countries on the panel told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

It will be the fourth emergency session held by the Security Council on Israeli-Palestinian tensions since the establishment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government just over three months ago.

Similar urgent meetings were convened after far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the flashpoint Temple Mount and after deadly IDF raids in Nablus and Jenin. The Security Council has also held three of its mandated monthly meetings on the Israeli-Palestinian during that same time span as well.

The emergency meeting will take place less than two days after the clashes in Jerusalem ended a relatively calm first two weeks of Ramadan.

Police said they entered the mosque after masked youths barricaded themselves inside the place of worship atop the Temple Mount with fireworks, clubs and rocks and refused to come out peacefully. Officers apparently believed the group intended to assault Jews visiting the mount on Passover Eve.

Palestinians say that it is a traditional custom to remain in mosques overnight during Ramadan.

Footage released by Israel showed Palestinians inside the mosque shooting off fireworks at police in an intense clash.

Clips uploaded to social media showed troops beating already apprehended Palestinians inside the mosque.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and is revered as the location of both ancient Jewish temples. The compound is Islam’s third holiest site and is managed by Jordan, as part of a delicate arrangement with Israel.

Police said they tried to convince rioters inside the mosque to leave but that the group refused to comply, leaving security forces no option but to enter the building.

Some 350 suspects were detained by police. All but 57 were released by Wednesday afternoon, police said.

The clashes led to some 16 rockets being fired at Israel from Gaza early Wednesday. The Sderot Municipality said one of the rockets struck a factory in the industrial area, causing damage. No one was hurt.

In response Israel carried out airstrikes in the Strip, hitting several Hamas facilities.

The fighting raised fears of a wider conflagration. Similar clashes two years ago erupted into a bloody 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland, who will be briefing Security Council members on the latest developments at Thursday’s session, said in a Wednesday statement that he was “appalled by the images of violence inside the al-Qibli mosque” on the Temple Mount compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

“I am disturbed by the apparent beating of Palestinians by Israeli security forces and the large number of arrests. I also strongly reject the stockpiling and use of fireworks and rocks by Palestinians inside the mosque,” Wennesland said, pointedly criticizing both sides for their conduct in the clashes that took place overnight Tuesday-Wednesday.

“This holy period and places of worship should be for safe and peaceful religious reflection, noting that nearly 600,000 people have visited the Holy Sites in Jerusalem since the beginning of Ramadan. I call on political, religious and community leaders on all sides to reject incitement, inflammatory rhetoric, and provocative actions,” Wennesland said.

A United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on February 20, 2023. (Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)

“The historic status quo of the Holy Sites must be upheld, in line with the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The role of the [Jordan-backed Islamic] Waqf is vital and it must be empowered to fulfill its crucial duties,” he said. “Leaders on all sides must act responsibly and refrain from steps that could escalate tensions.”

“The indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza is unacceptable and must stop,” Wennesland added. “The UN remains in close contact with all concerned parties to de-escalate the situation.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “shocked and appalled” by images he saw of Israeli security forces beating people at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, his spokesman said Wednesday.

Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Guterres viewed images of the “violence and beating” within the holy site, and found it more distressing because it came “at a time of a calendar which is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims that should be a time for peace and nonviolence.”

Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, speaks during an emergency meeting of the UN security council regarding the situation in Palestine, at UN headquarters in New York City on January 5, 2023. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP)

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US is “extremely concerned” about the violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and “urges all parties to avoid further escalation.”

“More than ever, Israelis and Palestinians need to work together to reduce these tensions and restore calm,” said Kirby.

The US Office of Palestinian Affairs also weighed in, saying that “violence has no place in a holy site and during a holy season.

[We’re] alarmed by the shocking scenes in Al-Aqsa Mosque and rockets launched from Gaza toward Israel,” its statement said, appearing to criticize both Israeli and Palestinian-instigated violence. “We call for restraint and de-escalation to allow peaceful worship and to protect the sanctity of the holy sites.”

The Arab League was set to meet for its own emergency session Wednesday on the Jerusalem violence.

Turkey on Wednesday denounced the clashes at the mosque, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying Israel had crossed a “red line.”

“Turkey cannot stay silent in the face of these attacks. Trampling on the Al-Aqsa Mosque is our red line,” Erdogan said during a dinner for those breaking daytime fasting, a practice for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Erdogan’s comments followed earlier criticism made by his Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

“We condemn these attacks,” Cavusoglu said on the margins of a NATO gathering in Brussels. “Normalization with Israel has begun, but our commitment cannot be at the expense of the Palestinian cause and our principles.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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