Israel Vows to Keep Jerusalem Order, Hundreds of Palestinians Wounded


Israel vowed Sunday to restore order in Jerusalem after hundreds of Palestinian protesters were wounded in a weekend of clashes with Israeli security forces, while the justice ministry put off a key court ruling on a flashpoint property dispute.

Consecutive nights of violence around the revered Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City has been the worst since 2017, fueled by a years-long bid by Jewish settlers to take over nearby Palestinian homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel "would decisively and responsibly impose law and order in Jerusalem."

Amid growing international calls for a de-escalation, Tunisia said the U.N. Security Council was to hold a closed-door meeting Monday, at its request, to discuss the violence.

Some 121 Palestinians were wounded in Saturday's overnight clashes, many hit by rubber bullets and stun grenades, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

Israeli police said 17 of its officers were wounded.  

The previous night more than 220 people, again mostly Palestinians, were hurt as police stormed Al-Aqsa, saying Palestinians had thrown rocks and fireworks at officers.

Four Arab countries that normalized ties with Israel over the past year -- the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan -- all condemned Israel's actions and voiced support for the Palestinians.

The UN children's agency UNICEF said that over two days, 29 Palestinian children had been injured in east Jerusalem, including a one-year-old.

Eight Palestinian children have been arrested, it said.

On Saturday night, thousands of Palestinians packed Al-Aqsa mosque compound for special Ramadan prayers at Islam's third-holiest site, which Jews revere as the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel would maintain "freedom of worship for all religions."

But police set up roadblocks the previous night, saying they wanted to limit access to the Old City and avoid "violent riots" -- effectively preventing hundreds from praying.

An AFP reported saw police stop at least one bus heading to east Jerusalem and detain some Palestinians, while hundreds of others marched on highways to the Holy City.

"They want to stop us from going to Al-Aqsa," said Ali al-Komani, 40, outside the holy site.

- Heightened tensions -

Saturday marked Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Destiny), a key moment in the Muslim calendar believed to be the night when the Koran holy book was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

Worshippers prayed peacefully at Al-Aqsa, but violence flared elsewhere in east Jerusalem, in the West Bank and on the Gaza-Israel border.

Mounted police deployed outside Damascus Gate, a key access point to the Old City, as agents fired stun grenades to disperse protesters.

Palestinians pelted riot police with stones and set fire to a makeshift barricade, and reporters saw a woman with a bloodied face being escorted away from the scene by a rescuer.

Police said they detained nine people for "disrupting public order" and warned that "all means will be used to maintain calm".

Police also dispersed a rally in Sheikh Jarrah district, where Palestinian families facing eviction from their homes in a dispute with Jewish settlers had been expecting a Supreme Court decision on Monday.

Police fired stun grenades and water cannon at protesters who pelted them with stones, while a group of Palestinians clapped and sang resistance songs.

A reporter for Israeli public television tweeted footage of a Jewish driver whose car was attacked with stones and windows shattered at the entrance to Sheikh Jarrah.

"We are here, in the street, to say that we are not going to leave," demonstrator Adnan, 20, told AFP. 

"For years, settlers have attacked us and taken our land, but silence is no longer an option."

Hamas Islamists in Gaza have threatened attacks against Israel if the high-profile case goes against the Palestinian families.

The justice ministry said Sunday that in light of "all the circumstances," it would delay the court hearing.

- Calls for calm -

In Gaza, Palestinians on Saturday packed tires inside vehicles and drove to the border with Israel where they set them on fire. They also fired incendiary balloons across the frontier.

The violence has sparked international calls for calm, including from Pope Francis. 

"Violence only generates violence. Let's stop these clashes," he said. "I pray so that (Jerusalem) might be a place of encounter and not violent clashes, a place of prayer and of peace."

The Middle East Quartet of envoys from the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations expressed "deep concern" and called for restraint.

The U.S. State Department has urged both sides to "avoid steps that exacerbate tensions."

Russia said the expropriation of land and property in the occupied Palestinian territories including east Jerusalem was "a violation of international law."

Jordan, the custodian of holy sites in east Jerusalem, condemned Israel's "barbaric attack."

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas voiced "full support for our heroes in Al-Aqsa."

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