Israeli police deployed in force throughout Jerusalem yesterday ahead of a mass annual march as tensions simmered in the Holy City after two days of clashes with Palestinian youths.
“We are maintaining a state of alert and are deploying in force,” Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben Rubi said, adding that about 2,000 police officers and border guards were on the streets.
Thousands of people were expected to march through the streets of Jerusalem later yesterday for the Jewish festival of Sukkot, with at least one march passing through the mostly Arab eastern part of the city.
Tensions have run high in Jerusalem over the past several days after clashes broke out near the flashpoint site of the al-Aqsa mosque compound, revered by both Jews and Muslims, on Sunday for the second time in a week.
On Monday, Palestinian youths hurled stones at Israeli police in several neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, with one officer lightly wounded after being stabbed in the neck.
About 20 Palestinians were arrested following the clashes, police said.
Israeli authorities yesterday continued to limit access to the mosque compound in the Old City to Muslim men aged 50 and over, with no restrictions for women, after Sunday’s clashes in which seven Palestinian protesters were injured and three arrested.
The annual Sukkot marches in Jerusalem, with participants varying from Israeli health enthusiasts walking for the sport to evangelical Christians from abroad marching to show support for the Jewish state, have increasingly taken on a nationalist flavor over the past several years.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community.
It considers Jerusalem to be its “eternal, indivisible” capital, while the Palestinians want to make the eastern part of the city the capital of their promised state.
Tensions flared on Sunday after police closed access to the al-Aqsa compound — known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Clashes broke out after more than 150 people gathered to pray outside the compound. After the prayers, worshippers threw stones and security forces responded with stun grenades and a water cannon.
Rumors had earlier swept through the Old City that the Israeli authorities would allow right-wing Jewish settlers to enter the compound during the week-long festival.
The site of the al-Aqsa compound is the holiest in Judaism and third holiest in Islam, and it has often been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The second Palestinian intifada broke out there in September 2000 after a visit by Ariel Sharon, the right-wing politician who became prime minister the following year.
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