Police deploy in Jerusalem as tensions simmer

Israeli police deployed in force throughout Jerusalem on Tuesday ahead of a mass annual march, as tensions simmered in the Holy City after two days of clashes with Palestinian youths.

”We are maintaining a state of alert and are deploying in force,” Jerusalem police spokesperson Shmuel Ben Rubi told Agence France-Presse, adding that about 2 000 police officers and border guards were on the streets.

Thousands of people were expected to march through the streets of Jerusalem later on Tuesday for the Jewish festival of Sukkot, with at least one march passing through the mostly Arab eastern part of the city.

Tensions have run high in Jerusalem over the past several days after clashes broke out near the flashpoint site of the al-Aqsa mosque compound, revered by both Jews and Muslims, on Sunday for the second time in a week.

On Monday, Palestinian youths hurled stones at Israeli police in several neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem, with one officer lightly wounded after being stabbed in the neck.

About 20 Palestinians were arrested following the clashes, police said.

Israeli authorities continued on Tuesday to limit access to the mosque compound in the Old City to Muslim men aged 50 and over, with no restrictions for women, after Sunday’s clashes in which seven Palestinian protesters were injured and three arrested.

The annual Sukkot marches in Jerusalem, with participants varying from Israeli health enthusiasts walking for the sport to evangelical Christians from abroad marching to show support for the Jewish state, have increasingly taken on a nationalist flavour over the past several years.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community.

It considers Jerusalem to be its ”eternal, indivisible” capital while the Palestinians want to make the eastern part of the city the capital of their promised state.

Tension flared on Sunday after police closed access to the al-Aqsa compound — known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Clashes broke out after more than 150 people gathered to pray outside the compound. After the prayers, worshippers threw stones and security forces responded with stun grenades and a water cannon.

Rumours had earlier swept through the Old City that the Israeli authorities would allow right-wing Jewish settlers to enter the compound during the week-long festival of Sukkot.

The site of the al-Aqsa compound is the holiest in Judaism and third holiest in Islam, and it has often been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The second Palestinian intifada broke out there in September 2000 after a visit by Ariel Sharon, the right-wing politician who became Israeli prime minister the following year. — AFP



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