Over 300 wounded in Israel's crackdown on Palestinians at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque

AFP , Monday 10 May 2021

The crackdown has been Jerusalem's worst since 2017, fuelled by a long-running bid by Jewish settlers to evict several Palestinian families from their Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood

Sheikh Jarrah
Palestinians demonstrate against a possible eviction of Palestinian families as part of an ongoing effort by Jewish Israelis to take control of homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of the Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on May 9, 2021 AFP

More than 300 people were wounded Monday in the crackdown of the Israeli police on the Palestinians at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, as an Israeli celebration of its 1967 takeover of Jerusalem risked inflaming tensions.

Israeli police restricted access to Al-Aqsa to Palestinians aged over 40, checking identification of anyone who wanted to access the plaza.

"We do not know what to do," Palestinian retiree Fathi Awwad told AFP in the Old City. "We are really sad about the situation inside, what is this? More than 200 injured inside! It's a shame."

The crackdown since Friday has been Jerusalem's worst since 2017, fuelled by a long-running bid by Jewish settlers to evict several Palestinian families from their nearby east Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

A Supreme Court hearing on a Palestinian appeal in the case originally set for Monday was pushed back by the justice ministry due to the tensions.

Despite mounting international condemnation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced support for the Israeli police's "just struggle", praising the "steadfastness that the Israeli police and our security forces are currently displaying".

Police said Jewish "prayers continue as usual" at the Western Wall, which adjoins the esplanade, adding that "we will not let extremists threaten the safety of the public".

The UN Security Council was to hold an informal meeting at Tunisia's request later Monday on the crackdown that has escalated since the last Friday prayers of Ramadan.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation said it would Tuesday hold an emergency meeting "to discuss the escalating Israeli aggression", including the evictions issue and "attacks against worshippers in the Mosque compound and denial of the compound access to them".

There were fears of further crackdown ahead of a march Monday by Israelis to commemorate the takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, an anniversary known as "Jerusalem Day" in Israel. 

Palestinians had erected barricade of wooden planks and metal sheets to ensure Jews did not enter, but police had previously indicated Jews would not be permitted at the site on Monday.

The Palestinian Red Crescent put the toll from Monday's clashes at 305 injured, including more than 200 who were hospitalised, five of them in critical condition.

The Israeli police reported nine injuries in their ranks.

Three Palestinians lost one eye each, said surgeon Firas Abu Akari at east Jerusalem's Makassed hospital.

Adnan Farhoud, general director at Makassed, said it appeared Israeli police had targeted rubber-encased bullets directly at people's heads.

Near the Old City, an Israeli driver was pelted with stones, lost control of the car and rammed it into Palestinians, according to police and footage from a journalist on the scene.

Since Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, started, Israel put barriers outside Damascus Gate to prevent the Palestinians from breaking the fast on the steps of the area where thousands of them traditionally gather after the night-time prayers. But it removed them at a later stage.

In addition to ongoing acts of violence committed by both Israeli settlers and forces agaisnt the Palestinians, which recently resulted in the injury of hundreds, Israel plans to evict several Palestinians families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighoburhood in east Jerusalem.

Israeli settlers regularly storm Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, while strict limitations are imposed by Israeli security forces on the Palestinians who wish to enter it.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan "encouraged the Israeli government to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations".

All six Arab nations that have diplomatic ties with Israel -- Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan -- have rebuked Israel.

Turkey, which also has formal relations with Israel, called it an "apartheid state" that must end the "heinous and cruel attacks" against Palestinians.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, urged the UN Security Council to act.

The Middle East quartet of envoys from the UN, US, EU and Russia -- and Pope Francis -- have all called for calm.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas issued a fresh condemnation of what he called Israel's "barbaric aggression."

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said the Islamist group that controls Gaza would not sit idly with "arms crossed".

*This story was edited by Ahram Online. 

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