Israeli police faced off with Palestinian protesters in another night of clashes in East Jerusalem, a day before Israeli nationalists planned to parade through the Old City in an annual flag-waving march meant to cement Israeli claims to the contested area.
Israeli media reported that 25 people were wounded in clashes on Sunday in Jerusalem and were 23 arrested. The Times of Israel reported Israeli forces and Palestinian demonstrators clashed in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
Tensions have soared in recent days in advance of the now-delayed Israeli court ruling on whether authorities were able to evict dozens of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah and give their homes to Jewish settlers.
The late-night skirmishes raised fears about further clashes on Monday during the Jerusalem Day celebrations which mark the anniversary of when troops captured the entire city in 1967.
Israeli police gave the go-ahead for the parade, despite days of unrest at a flashpoint holy site and in a nearby Arab neighbourhood where Jewish settlers have been trying to evict Palestinians from their homes.
Addressing a special cabinet meeting ahead of Jerusalem Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel “will not allow any extremists to destabilise the calm in Jerusalem. We will enforce law and order decisively and responsibly.”
“We will continue to maintain freedom of worship for all faiths, but we will not allow violent disturbances,” he said. At the same time, he said: “We emphatically reject the pressures not to build in Jerusalem.”
The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on Sunday expressed “serious concerns” about the violent clashes in Jerusalem in a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, the White House said in a statement.
There were also signs the violence was beginning to spread. Late on Sunday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets toward Israel, setting off air raid sirens in southern city of Ashkelon and nearby areas, the Israeli military said. It said one rocket was intercepted, while two others exploded inside Gaza. There were no reports of damage or injuries.
Earlier in the day, Israel carried out an airstrike on a Hamas post in response to another rocket attack. Gazan protesters affiliated with Hamas militant group also launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel during the day, causing dozens of fires.
Israel has faced mounting international criticism of its heavy police response and the planned evictions. Last week a UN rights body described the expulsion of Arabs from their homes as a possible war crime. On Sunday Jordan, which has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, described Israel’s actions against worshippers at al-Aqsa as “barbaric”.
On Saturday night 120 people were injured, including a one-year-old child and 14 were taken to hospital. It came a day after more than 200 Palestinians were wounded in violence around Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
Israeli police said 20 officers have been injured in recent days.
In East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, Palestinians feel an increasing threat from settlers who have sought to expand the Jewish presence there through buying homes, constructing new buildings, and court-ordered evictions, such as the case in Sheikh Jarrah.
Nabeel al-Kurd, a 77-year-old whose family faces losing their home, said the evictions were a racist attempt to “expel Palestinians and replace them with settlers”.
Under Israeli law, Jews who can prove a title from before the 1948 war that accompanied the country’s creation can claim back their Jerusalem properties. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs were displaced in the same conflict, but no similar law exists for Palestinians who lost their homes in the city.
“This an attempt by the settlers, supported by the government, to seize our homes with force,” al-Kurd told the Guardian. “Enough is enough.”
On Sunday afternoon, in light of the tensions and after a request from the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, the supreme court agreed to delay the hearing. It said it should be held within a month.
Still, the hiatus might not be enough to end the crisis. Previous Jerusalem Day marches have seen participants harass Arab residents and bang on shuttered doors as they descend through the Muslim quarter.
Palestinians have also complained of oppressive restrictions on gatherings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Nir Hasson, a writer for the left-leaning Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz, accused Israeli authorities of making a series of bad decisions during the past few weeks, “including the unrestrained freedom given to police in [Jerusalem’s] streets, where on Friday they acted as if they had been sent to fan the flames, not to extinguish them”.
He added: “In the end, half of Israel’s capital city is occupied, and 40% of its residents are non-citizens who view Israel as a foreign, oppressive regime. The police and other authorities must recognise this and act to restore calm.”
Jerusalem has long been the centre of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, with its holy sites revered by Jews and Muslims.
The Old City’s Western Wall forms part of the holiest site in Judaism – the Temple Mount. It is equally part of the al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, however, with the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque above it.
Palestinians have held nightly protests in Sheikh Jarrah. A reporter for Israeli public TV tweeted footage of a Jewish driver whose car was attacked with stones and windows shattered at the entrance to Sheikh Jarrah on Saturday.
The Islamist movement Hamas, which is in power in Gaza, urged Palestinians to remain at al-Aqsa until Ramadan ends, saying: “The resistance is ready to defend al-Aqsa at any cost”.