Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, political rivals, blasted Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid for his visit to Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City this week, a flashpoint for rising tensions and fears of new violence in the region.
The PA’s Foreign Ministry in Ramallah wrote on its website that it “condemns in the strongest terms the provocative incursion by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in the Bab al-Amud [Damascus Gate] area in occupied Jerusalem, and strongly condemns the promises he made to Jewish extremists to deploy more occupation forces and police in Jerusalem under the pretext of providing protection for them during the Jewish holidays.”
In its condemnation of Lapid, the Islamist terrorist organization Hamas threatened to use violence against the Jewish state.
“We and our people have pledged to defend Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa by force and by all means at our disposal,” warned Hamas.
Israel’s foreign minister was accompanied in Jerusalem by Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai as well as other officials and lawmakers.
“This is a difficult, tense period, but we have a police [force] that can be relied on to get us through this complex period,” Lapid said.
“We give you full backing,” added the Israeli foreign minister.
At least 10 people were arrested during clashes between radical Muslims and Israeli police at the Damascus Gate on Sunday.
Sigal Bar-Tzvi, head of the Israel Police’s Operations Department, warned that the violence could quickly escalate through miscalculations by both sides.
“Even the smallest spark could ignite multi-front incidents across Israel,” warned Bar-Tzvi.
“Our policy as law enforcement is to create as little friction as possible during protests and even during riots like around the Damascus Gate. The order passed down to the commanders on the ground is to try to contain such events and avoid arrests. However, the commander on the ground has full backing to act as they deem fit in the face of such riots,” added Bar-Tzvi.
The Israeli Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi reportedly told commanders in Tel Aviv on Sunday that the Israel Defense Forces was preparing for a scenario of heightened alert, lasting throughout the entire Muslim fasting month Ramadan and potentially even longer. Kochavi hinted that the military was preparing for a potential second “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” referring to last year’s 11 days of war between Hamas and Israel, which started with rockets being fired by Hamas from Gaza against the Israeli capital Jerusalem.
Kochavi revealed that the Israeli army had already prevented at least 10 attempted terrorist attacks during the past two weeks. Several other terror attacks were carried out, including three which took the lives of 11 people in Israel in the past two weeks.
Last Friday, an Israeli Special Forces Unit killed three Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists during a fire exchange outside the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank. Israeli authorities later revealed that the terrorist cell was in an advanced stage of carrying out a terrorist attack inside the Jewish state.
Jerusalem’s Old City contains some of the world’s most sacred shrines to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In modern times, the Jewish state captured Jerusalem’s Old City during the Six-Day War in 1967 after being attacked by Jordan. The Hashemite Kingdom controlled the eastern part of Jerusalem between 1948 to 1967.
Under Jordanian rule, Jews were forbidden – and Christians were restricted – from visiting the holy sites in the Old City. Since Jerusalem was reunited under Israeli control in 1967, there is complete freedom of religion and access to the sacred sites by followers of all three Abrahamic faiths.
Analyst Nadav Shragai argues that the “Al-Aksa Is in Danger” libel has been used for almost a century as a political tool for incitement against Jews, effectively exploited by the pro-Nazi Jerusalem Mufti al-Husseini in the 1930s and decades later by the late PLO chief Yasser Arafat and current Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.