JERUSALEM (AP) – A far-right Israeli lawmaker, joined by dozens of ultra-nationalist supporters, entered Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site early on Sunday, prompting a crowd of Palestinians to throw rocks and fireworks at nearby Israeli police.
The unrest broke out ahead of a massive ultra-nationalist Israeli march planned later Sunday through the heart of the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Some 3,000 Israeli police officers were deployed throughout the city prior to the march.
Israel says the march is intended to celebrate Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in the 1967 Middle East War. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital. But Palestinians, who seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, see the march as a provocation. Last year, the parade helped spark an 11-day war between Israel and militants in Gaza.
Sunday’s unrest took place in a disputed hilltop revered by Jews and Muslims. The compound is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount and revere it as the home of the biblical temples. The competing claims on the site lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have led to numerous acts of violence†
Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of a small ultra-nationalist opposition party in the party and a follower of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahaneenter the compound early on Sunday together with dozens of supporters.
Palestinians shouted “God is great” while Ben-Gvir, accompanied by Israeli police, shouted “the Jewish people are alive”. Later, a mob of Palestinians barricaded inside the mosque threw fireworks and rocks at the police, who did not respond immediately.
Israel’s national police chief Kobi Shabtai said his troops were prepared for “any scenario” and took “immediate and professional” action when needed.
“We will not allow any instigator or rioter to sabotage today’s events and disrupt public order,” he said.
Sunday’s march comes at a time of heightened tensions. Israeli police have repeatedly confronted stone-throwing Palestinian protesters in the disputed compound in recent months, often firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.
At the same time, about 19 Israelis were killed by Palestinian attackers in Israel and the occupied West Bank, while more than 35 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military operations in the occupied West Bank. Many of the dead were Palestinian militants, but several civilians were also among the dead, including Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known correspondent for the Al Jazeera satellite channel.
Jerusalem police were criticized internationally for beating mourners at Abu Akleh’s funeral two weeks ago.
Under lengthy regulations known as the “status quo,” Jewish pilgrims are allowed to enter the hilltop complex, but they are not allowed to pray. In recent years, however, the number of Jewish visitors has grown significantly, including some quietly praying†
Such scenes have fueled Palestinian fears that Israel plans to take over or divide the area. Israel denies such claims and says it remains committed to the status quo.