Israeli policemen arrest a Palestinian protester near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, on April 25, 2021. (Photo / AFP)
Israeli police on Sunday allowed Palestinians to gather in a flashpoint plaza outside Jerusalem's walled Old City, in a move apparently aimed at easing tensions after days of clashes.
The staired plaza outside Damascus Gate in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem is a traditional gathering spot for Palestinians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Jerusalem, a perennial powder-keg of religious tension, has seen some of its worst violence in years over recent days, triggered in part by an Israeli decision to block Palestinians from gathering on the Damascus Gate steps following prayers.
But as crowds were building in the plaza on Sunday, police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai ordered the barricades be removed.
The decision came "following consultations with local leadership, religious leadership, situation assessments, while taking into consideration the shop owners who need to make a living, and in order to lower the level of violence," a spokesman told AFP.
"Our forces are still deployed on the ground, and we won't let violence resurge," the spokesman said.
Hundreds of Palestinians, including male youths who tossed the barricades to the side, held celebratory rallies in the plaza, watched over by police.
Minor scuffles erupted after some of the revellers began waving Palestinian flags, moves which prompted police to storm the plaza.
AFP reporters saw several young Palestinians being detained by police.
But the plaza remained open, with police maintaining a heavy presence in the area into the early hours Monday.
Samir Gheith, a 66-year-old Palestinian from Jerusalem, said people had been looking forward to gathering at Damascus Gate during Ramadan after it was closed last year due to coronavirus restrictions.
"I think they don't want to see us be happy," he told AFP, referring to the initial decision to barricade the plaza.
"But then they came to understand that they needed to put a stop to all these tensions," he said.
*This story has been edited by AhramOnline