Israel is roiling on the brink of war – and Jerusalem is front and center.
Police closed the major highway on the way to Jerusalem for hours in order to block buses of Muslims – many of whom decided to descend from their stopped buses and reach the city by foot. Scores of Muslim men marched on the closed highway chanting, “In spirit and blood we will redeem al-Aqsa.”
In Jaffa, Arab protestors gathered in solidarity with Muslims at al-Aqsa Mosque and the controversy over impending evictions of Arab families from their homes in a property dispute.
In Gaza, Palestinians demonstrated at the border fence and sent incendiary balloons sailing into southern Israel, causing 10 fires.
And in the West Bank, Israel's military is beefing up its defense forces after several terror attacks this week.
But Ground Zero was Jerusalem – the Temple Mount, to be exact, which is the holiest site in Judaism and al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. As expected, violence erupted after Saturday night prayers between Muslims and Israeli police.
In some of the worst violence in recent years during Ramadan, Muslim worshippers clashed for several hours with police after evening prayers on the last Friday of Ramadan. After Palestinians threw rocks and bottles at Israeli police, officers burst into the al-Aqsa compound last night.
Police even fired a stun gun into the mosque while worshippers were inside, according to footage from Israel's Channel 11.
Some 17 Israeli police and more than 200 Palestinians were wounded in the violence on Friday.
The situation is expected to deteriorate in the coming days. Tomorrow night is the start of Jerusalem Day, when Israelis celebrate the anniversary of the city becoming unified under Israeli control. But the holiday tends to raise tensions in the city as religious nationalists hold parades, one of which heads through Damascus Gate – the major flashpoint in the last few weeks.
Also this week, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, which will likely inflame the situation either way.
The United States has called on both sides to de-escalate.
“It is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace,” the U.S. State Department said. “This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
As tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers arrived in Jerusalem for Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power – the most sacred day of Ramadan – Hamas issued a warning that Mohammed Deif, head of the terror organization's military wing, would not break his promise of raining terror on Israel if it did not back off on Sheikh Jarrah.
“We praise the steadfastness of our faithful people defending Jerusalem and al-Aqsa. We tell them: Commander Mohammad Deif made a promise, and he shall not retreat from it,” a spokesperson for the Izz al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades said.
The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem issued an alert to Americans to keep a low profile and placed the Old City off limits to Embassy personnel.
“There has been a marked increase in protests in Jerusalem near the Old City, City Center, and parts of North and East Jerusalem, including Sheikh Jarrah and the surrounding areas,” the warning read. “Some protests have turned violent to include vandalism, rock throwing, broken glass, burning of vehicles, and attacks on passersby. Protests and violence may continue to occur, some with little or no warning.”
This week alone has been wrought with protests over planned evictions of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem, and several terror attacks in the West Bank.
An Israeli yeshiva student, Yehuda Guetta, 19, was shot and later died of his wounds in one attack. Yesterday, Israeli border police thwarted an attempted attack when three Palestinians opened fire at a military base. Officials later said the three gunmen were on their way to carry out a major attack in Jerusalem.
Tensions have been simmering since the beginning of Ramadan when Palestinians clashed nightly with Israeli police outside of Damascus Gate in the Old City and videos circulated on social media of young Arab men attacking Jewish men.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS