Clashes as controversial Israeli lawmaker visits Jerusalem flashpoint

AFP , Sunday 13 Feb 2022

Israeli police clashed with Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied flashpoint east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Sunday, during a visit by a controversial far-right Jewish lawmaker that inflamed tensions.

Israeli-occupied Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah
Israeli security forces close-off a street following clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers during a visit by far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir of the Religious Zionism alliance (unseen), in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah on February 13, 2022. AFP

Police said they arrested eight people during the day for suspected involvement in "public riots and violence," in the area of annexed east Jerusalem that has emerged as a symbol of Palestinian resistance against Israeli control of the city.

Scuffles broke out as Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Religious Zionism alliance opened a parliamentary office in Sheikh Jarrah, in what he described as an effort to show support for its Jewish residents.

Tensions that erupted in Sheikh Jarrah last year -- as several Palestinian families faced eviction by settler groups -- in part sparked the May war between Israel and armed groups in the Gaza Strip.

More than 200,000 Jewish settlers live in east Jerusalem, in communities widely regarded as illegal under international law.

Efforts by settler groups to expand the Jewish presence in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital, have further fuelled hostilities.

Ben Gvir, a Jewish nationalist with a long history of incendiary comments about Palestinians, accused police of failing to react to alleged arson attacks on a settler home in Sheikh Jarrah.

"Jewish lives have become worthless," Ben Gvir charged in a tweet before his visit.

He told reporters in Sheikh Jarrah, where he set up his "make-shift office" under a tent, that he would remain there until police "looked after the security of the (Jewish) residents".

'Irresponsible provocations'

In a move that risked sparking fresh hostilities, Ben Gvir urged supporters to gather in the area.

Palestinians were also called on to mobilise, while a group of Jewish Israelis that oppose Ben Gvir circulated a petition online urging people to head to Sheikh Jarrah as a show of support for its Arab residents.

Voicing concern over Sunday's "violent clashes," the European Union in a tweet said "irresponsible provocations and other escalatory acts in this sensitive area only fuel further tensions & must cease."

The Palestinian Authority, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, condemned Ben Gvir's visit as a "provocative and escalating move that threatens to ignite... violence that will be difficult to control."

Seven Palestinian facing eviction by settler groups have taken their cases to Israel's supreme court.

Hamas, the Islamists who control Gaza, warned there would be "consequences" over Israel's repeated "attacks" on Sheikh Jarrah.

Palestinians across east Jerusalem accuse Israeli police of using heavy-handed tactics to quell protests.

Six people were arrested during unrest in the neighbourhood late Saturday.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it, a move not recognised by most of the international community.

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