Air raid sirens, explosions heard in Jerusalem amid tensions

It was not clear whether the explosions were missile landings or missile defense systems trying to intercept them. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

This is a breaking news story. AP’s earlier report is below:

Israeli police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets that clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians at a focal point in the holy place in Jerusalem on Monday. This was the latest in a series of confrontations that threatened to propel the disputed city towards greater conflict.

In an overt attempt to avoid further confrontation, the Israeli authorities changed the planned route of ultra-nationalist Jews through the Muslim quarter of the old city. Protesters were instructed to avoid the area and sent on a different route to bypass the Muslim Quarter on their way to the Western Wall, the holiest place for Jews to pray.

However, tensions remained high after the violence on Monday morning.

More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, as police and protesters competed in the walled compound that surrounds them, a local Associated Press photographer said. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and iconic shrine with the golden dome, and stones lay in the nearby square. In one area of ​​the site, shoes and debris lay strewn on ornate carpets.

More than 305 Palestinians were injured, including 228 who went to hospitals and clinics for treatment, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. Seven of the injured were in serious condition. According to police, 21 officers were injured, including three who were hospitalized. Israeli medics said seven Israeli civilians were also injured.

The confrontation was the last one after that Weeks of mounting tension between Palestinians and Israeli forces in the old city of Jerusalem, the emotional center of their conflict. During the holy month of Muslims in Ramadan, which was already a time of heightened religious sensitivity, there were almost nocturnal clashes.

Finally, the tensions were fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem where Israeli settlers have fought a lengthy legal battle to take over property. Monday should be especially tense as the Israelis called it Jerusalem Day to celebrate their conquest of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War.

On Monday, two anti-Arab MPs from the Israeli parliament, surrounded by entourage and police, pushed through a line of protesters in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Several Arab MPs were among those who tried to stop Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir while they shouted and pushed. At some point during the crush, the protesters knocked on the side of a dumpster and a man yelled at Smotrich in Arabic, “Get out, you dog!”

Smotrich and Ben Gvir eventually came to the other side of a police barricade and entered a house that was already inhabited by settlers.

In the past few days, hundreds of Palestinians and several dozen police officers have been injured in clashes in and around the Old City, including the sacred site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The connection that triggered rounds of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the past is the third holiest site in Islam and is considered the holiest in Judaism.

An AP photographer at the scene said protesters used wooden planks and scrap metal to barricade gates to the walled area early Monday morning. At some point after 7 a.m. there were clashes with inmates throwing stones at the police outside. The police entered the premises and fired tear gas, rubber-coated steel pellets and stun grenades.

At some point in the morning there were about 400 people, both young protesters and elderly worshipers, in the carpeted Al-Aqsa mosque. Police fired tear gas and drugged grenades into the mosque.

According to police, protesters threw stones at officials and on an adjacent street near the Western Wall, where thousands of Israeli Jews had gathered to pray.

After several days of clashes with Jerusalem, Israel is facing increasing international criticism for its persistent actions on the ground, especially during Ramadan.

The United States Security Council scheduled closed consultations on Monday on the situation.

Late on Sunday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat. A White House statement said Sullivan had urged Israel “to take appropriate measures to ensure calm” and expressed US “serious concerns” about the ongoing violence and planned evictions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed off the criticism on Monday, saying Israel is determined to ensure the rights of worship for all and that this requires “getting up and holding on from time to time, as the Israeli police and our security forces are now doing”.

Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Netanyahu, claimed in a tweet that “extremist Palestinians planned well in advance to riot at the holy site,” and shared photos of stone mounds and wooden barricades within the compound.

Ayman Odeh, a leading Arab politician in Israel, blamed Israel’s discriminatory policies towards the Palestinians for the violence, saying it provoked the violence. “Wherever you find employment, you will find resistance,” he said at a press conference in Sheikh Jarrah.

In other violence, Palestinian protesters threw stones at an Israeli vehicle driving just outside the walls of the old city. The driver later told the public broadcaster Kan that his windows had been broken by stones and pepper spray had been shot into the car. CCTV footage released by the police showed a crowd surrounding the car and stone pelting it as it turned off the road into a stone barrier and a spectator.

Police said two passengers were injured.

The day began with the announcement by the police that Jews would not be allowed to visit the holy site on Jerusalem Day, which is marked with a flag parade through the old city, widely viewed by the Palestinians as a provocative phenomenon in the embattled city.

However, just as the parade was about to begin, police said they were changing the route on the instructions of the political leaders. Several thousand people, many of them from Jewish settlements in the West Bank, took part.

In the 1967 war in which Israel captured East Jerusalem, it also captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It later annexed East Jerusalem and regards the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians are looking for all three areas for a future state with East Jerusalem as the capital.

The latest round of violence began when Israel blocked a popular place where Muslims traditionally gather every night during Ramadan at the end of their all-day fast. Israel later lifted the restrictions, but clashes resumed quickly amid tensions over the planned eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah.

The Israeli Supreme Court postponed an important ruling on Monday that could have evicted dozens of Palestinians from their homes on the grounds of “circumstances”.

Tensions in Jerusalem threatened to echo across the region.

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have fired several rockets at Israel, and protesters allied with the ruling Hamas militant group have fired dozen of arson balloons into Israel and started fires in the southern part of the country.

Hamas issued an ultimatum and gave Israel until 6:00 p.m. remove its forces from the mosque and Sheikh Jarrah and release Palestinians detained in recent clashes. It was not immediately clear what Hamas was up to if its demands were not met.

In response, COGAT, the Israel Defense Ministry organ responsible for crossings with the Gaza Strip, announced on Monday that it would close the Erez crossing for all except humanitarian and exceptional cases until further notice.

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