JERUSALEM — Israeli police on Saturday clashed with Palestinian protesters outside Jerusalem’s Old City during the holiest night of Ramadan in a show of force that threatened to deepen the holy city’s worst religious unrest in several years. Earlier, police blocked busloads of pilgrims headed to Jerusalem to worship.
Police defended their actions as security moves, but these were seen as provocations by Muslims who accuse Israel of threatening their freedom of worship. Competing claims to east Jerusalem, home to the city’s most sensitive holy sites, lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have triggered serious violence in the past.
The unrest came a day after violence in which Palestinian medics said more than 200 Palestinians were wounded in clashes at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and elsewhere in Jerusalem. Friday’s violence drew condemnations from Israel’s Arab allies and calls for calm from the United States and Europe and the United Nations. The Arab League scheduled an emergency meeting on Monday.
Early Sunday, the Israeli military said Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at the country’s south that fell in an open area. In response, aircraft struck a military post for Hamas, the militant group ruling the territory. There were no reports of casualties in either attack.
Police chief Koby Shabtai said he had deployed more police in Jerusalem following Friday night’s clashes, which left 18 police officers wounded.
After weeks of nightly violence, Israelis and Palestinians were bracing for more conflict in the coming days.
“The right to demonstrate will be respected but public disturbances will be met with force and zero tolerance. I call on everyone to act responsibly and with restraint,” Shabtai said.