More than 300 people were wounded Monday in renewed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in Jerusalem, Palestinian medics said, as an Israeli celebration of its 1967 takeover of the holy city threatened to further inflame tensions.
Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli officers in riot gear who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas on the esplanade of the revered Al-Aqsa mosque, an AFP correspondent at the scene said, following a night of sporadic clashes.
Loud booms and angry screams echoed from the ancient stone walls of the compound, revered by both Jews and Muslims, where tear gas filled the air and the ground was littered with rocks, stun grenade fragments and other debris.
The violence was the latest in days of the worst such disturbances in Jerusalem since 2017, fuelled by a long-running bid by Jewish settlers to take over nearby Palestinian homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Despite mounting international condemnation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supported the Israeli police force’s “just struggle” amid the Jerusalem clashes.
“We insist on guaranteeing the (religious) rights of all, and this from time to time requires the stability and steadfastness that the Israeli police and our security forces are currently displaying,” he said.
Police said Jewish “prayers continue as usual” at the Wailing Wall, which adjoins the esplanade, adding that “we will not let extremists threaten the safety of the public”.
The UN Security Council was to meet at Tunisia’s request later Monday on the unrest that has escalated since the last Friday prayers of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
A key court hearing scheduled for Monday on Sheikh Jarrah, the flashpoint east Jerusalem neighbourhood at the centre of the property dispute, has meanwhile been postponed.
There were fears of further violence ahead of a planned march Monday by Israelis to commemorate the takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, an anniversary known as “Jerusalem Day” in the Jewish state.
Israeli police had, as of Sunday, approved the march, which was re-scheduled to start around 5:00 pm (1400 GMT).
The Palestinian Red Crescent put the toll at 305 injured, including more than 200 who were hospitalised, five of them in critical condition.
Three people lost one eye each, said surgeon Firas Abu Akari at east Jerusalem’s Maqassed hospital.
Near the Old City, a car carrying Israelis was pelted with stones, lost control and rammed into Palestinians, according to police and footage from a journalist on the scene.
Once stopped, the vehicle was attacked by around a dozen people who continued to hurl projectiles at the passengers before an Israeli policeman dispersed the crowd by firing into the air.
The Israeli police reported nine injuries in their ranks.
US ‘serious concern’
The United States expressed “serious concerns” about the situation.
In a White House statement, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “encouraged the Israeli government to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations”.
The Israeli role in the hostilities — especially Friday’s clashes at Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest site — has met widespread criticism.
All six Arab nations that have diplomatic ties with Israel — Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — have condemned the Jewish state.
In Jordan, the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy Islamic and Christian sites, King Abdullah II condemned “Israeli violations and escalatory practices at the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque”.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, urged “the UN Security Council to take measures on the repeated violations carried out by Israel”.
The Middle East quartet of envoys from the EU, Russia, the US and the UN — and Pope Francis — have all called for calm.
Court case delayed
Much of the recent violence stems from a long-running legal effort by Jewish settler groups to evict several Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.
A lower court ruling this year backing the settlers’ decades-old claim to the plots infuriated Palestinians.
A Supreme Court hearing on a Palestinian appeal had been set for Monday, but the justice ministry said Sunday that in light of “all the circumstances” it would delay the hearing.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem following the 1967 takeover, a move not recognised by most of the international community.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has expressed “full support for our heroes in Al-Aqsa”.
Hamas Islamists who control the Gaza Strip have also voiced support for the Palestinian protesters and warned Israel of retribution if evictions proceed in Sheikh Jarrah.