Clashes at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem ahead of controversial Israeli flag parade

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Israelis dance with flags in front of the Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem’s Old City on June 15, 2021.REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File photo

Crispian Balmer and Sinan Abu Mayzer

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police confronted Palestinians hiding inside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque on Sunday, as hundreds of Jews visited the sacred mosque ahead of a controversial Jewish nationalist march through the old city center. compound.

The annual Jerusalem parade celebrates Israel’s capture of the Old City in the 1967 Middle East war and draws thousands of cheering and chanting participants in its narrow stone streets.

Palestinian factions have warned that a flag-waving march through the city’s Muslim quarter could reignite their decades-long conflict with Israelis. Tensions in the city have been rising for weeks.

Hours before the march began, police locked some Palestinians inside a mosque in the Al-Aqsa compound, which is revered by Muslims and Jews alike, as Jewish tourists arrive for daily tours of the compound.

Palestinians threw rocks and fired fireworks at police, who responded with stun grenades.

Among the Jewish tourists were a dozen young men in religious clothing who smiled, sang and applauded in the direction of the protesters. Other Jews were later seen holding Israeli flags.

Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, condemned videos posted online suggesting Jews had prayed at the site, violating a longstanding ban.

“The Israeli government is fully responsible for all these irresponsible policies and their consequences,” Bassem Naeem, a senior Hamas official, told Reuters.

In recent years, Hamas has portrayed itself as the defender of Muslim Jerusalem. After weeks of tension last year over the expulsion of Palestinians from the city, Hamas fired rockets into Israel during a nationalist march, sparking an 11-day war that killed at least 250 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and 13 Israelis were killed.

no change

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett refused to support any change despite calls from some of his own coalition allies to reconsider the march.

“The flag parade will continue on its planned route, as it has been for decades,” his office said Friday, adding that it would review the situation regularly in the coming hours.

Israel sees the whole of Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital, while the Palestinians want the east to be the capital of their future state. Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by Western governments, sees the entire territory of modern Israel as occupied.

For Palestinians, Sunday’s march was an insult and a violation of one of the few places in the city, increasingly surrounded by Jewish developments and settlements.

The march comes at an already high-tension time.

In April, during the holy month of Ramadan, Palestinians and Israeli police clashed several times at the Al-Aqsa compound, with Muslims angered by the increasing influx of Jewish tourists into the mosque’s square.

The funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akler, who was killed in a West Bank raid by Israeli forces two weeks ago, was thrown into chaos as police charged mourners.

Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also revered by the Jews as the Temple Mount – the remains of two ancient temples of their faith.

Sunday’s procession will culminate at the western wall of the Jewish prayer site below the al-Aqsa mosque.

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