Israeli police have deployed water cannon in a second night of clashes in Jerusalem – with separate clashes at two Israeli checkpoints into the West Bank.
In the worst violence since 2015, Palestinians fought sporadic running battles with the authorities around the Damascus Gate area of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Groups of Palestinians clashed with Israeli border police at the Qalandya checkpoint, which links Jerusalem with the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah, and at a checkpoint on the edge of Bethlehem.
There were also reports of clashes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan where a number of Israeli Jewish settlements are located.
Amateur video, filmed near the Damascus Gate, showed plain-clothes Israeli police officers armed with pistols wrestling with protesters.
The gate has been the focus of particular tension for the past few days after an Israeli decision, without explanation, to prevent people from sitting in the area.
The decision to barricade the plaza has caused tension and humiliation among Palestinians, who traditionally use it as a night-time focal point during this month of Ramadan.
Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, tweeted that the country strongly condemned “the racist attacks on Palestinians” and urged international intervention.
Israeli police said 44 people were arrested and 20 officers wounded in Friday’s clashes in Jerusalem.
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The clashes also follow months of growing tension between the Palestinian community and the Israeli authorities in reaction to the accelerated expansion of Jewish settlements and outposts in the Palestinian West Bank.
The tension has been exacerbated by the pandemic lockdown.
On Thursday night, the situation was complicated by a march by the far-right Jewish group Lehava who shouted “death to Arabs” and clashed with both Palestinian protesters and the Israeli police.
More than 100 people were injured, most of them Palestinian.
The Lehava march was itself promoted by the emergence of a video on social media site TikTok showing a 17-year-old Palestinian slapping an ultra-orthodox Jew in the face on a tram in Jerusalem.
We strongly condemn the racist attacks on Palestinians in occupied #Jerusalem & urge prompt Int’l action to protect Jerusalemites. As the occupying power under international law, Israel is responsible for stopping these attacks & for the dangerous consequences of failing to do so
— Ayman Safadi (@AymanHsafadi) April 23, 2021
The video was one of a number in which young Palestinians have filmed themselves harassing ultra-orthodox Jews in the city.
In an attempt to calm the tensions, leaders of the ultra-orthodox Haredi community released a statement calling on their followers not to be encouraged by the far-right Jewish protesters.
“We condemn the ultra-nationalists who tried last night to divide the Haredi population into their protests,” the statement read. “Haredi Judaism has nothing to do with these demonstrations and disturbances.”
The Israeli police have arrested two 17-year-old Palestinians over the slapping incident.
The far-right Jewish nationalists – whose leader said “we’ve come here tonight to clarify to anyone who thinks otherwise: Jerusalem is ours” – have been emboldened to push ahead with further Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and now have their own representative in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to put together a coalition government after an inconclusive election last month.
His alliances with far-right parties have further emboldened their supporters and stoked tensions with Palestinians.
In the south of Israel, sirens sounded as a number of rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip. Two fell in open ground, the third was intercepted by the Israeli military’s Iron Dome missile defence system.
The Israeli military (IDF) responded, and in a statement said: “A short while ago, IDF fighter jets and attack helicopters struck a number of Hamas military targets in the Gaza Strip, including an underground infrastructure and rocket launchers belonging to the Hamas terror organisation.”