Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a special cabinet meeting on the occasion of Jerusalem Day, at the Jerusalem Municipality building, in Jerusalem, May 9, 2021. (AMIT SHABI / POPOL PHOTO VIA AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back against international criticism of government policies that have sparked weeks of violence in contested Jerusalem, condemning the unrest as the work of extremists and rejecting what he said is mounting pressure to halt Jewish construction in the city.
READ MORE: Israel faces widespread criticism over Al-Aqsa mosque clashes
“We will not allow any extremist element to undermine the quiet in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said at a special cabinet meeting marking Jerusalem Day, the reunification of the city in the 1967 Middle East war. “We will uphold law and order, vigorously and responsibly. We will continue to safeguard freedom of worship for all faiths but we will not allow violent disturbances.”
We will not allow any extremist element to undermine the quiet in Jerusalem. We will uphold law and order, vigorously and responsibly. We will continue to safeguard freedom of worship for all faiths but we will not allow violent disturbances.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli PM
Addressing “our best friends,” he added, “Jerusalem is our capital and we will continue to build there.”
Neighboring Jordan summoned the Israeli envoy on Sunday to protest clashes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, over which Jordan has custodianship.
The holy city has been seething with its worst unrest in years since the beginning of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan more than three weeks ago. Israeli restrictions on gathering at a traditional Ramadan meeting place outside the Old City touched off the tensions, but after they were lifted, protests were rekindled by the threatened evictions of Palestinians from longtime homes in the eastern sector of the city that Israel captured in 1967.
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Over the weekend, Palestinian medics said dozens of Palestinians were wounded in confrontations with security forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and in other parts of the city. Worshipers threw chairs and rocks, and police in riot gear fired rubber bullets and stun grenades, the Associated Press reported.
Earlier, Israel blocked busloads of Muslim pilgrims headed for prayers at the mosque on Saturday night, the holiest night of Ramadan, saying they had intelligence there were provocateurs on board.
After another night of clashes, the Israeli military reported rocket fire early Sunday local time from Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, the AP said. No one was reported injured. In response, Israeli aircraft struck a Hamas military post.
Tensions have also been stoked by the killing of a Palestinian teenager, Palestinian gunmen and a young Israeli in the West Bank, the postponement of Palestinian elections and the resumed launching of incendiary balloons from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip at southern Israel.
Competing claims to east Jerusalem, home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, lie at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the city is a frequent flashpoint for violence.
An Israeli firefighter attempts to extinguish a fire caused by an incendiary balloon launched by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, on the Israeli Gaza border, May 9, 2021. Protest groups affiliated with Gaza's militant Hamas rulers began launching the incendiary balloons to protest what they say are heavy-handed Israeli actions at the Al-Aqsa mosque and elsewhere in Jerusalem in recent days. (TSAFRIR ABAYOV/AP)
Despite the volatility, Israeli police decided to allow the annual Jerusalem Day parade to go ahead, the Associated Press reported. A court hearing Monday on some of the evictions was delayed.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres believes Israel "must exercise maximum restraint and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly," said UN spokesman Setphane Dujarric
Frictions are expected to persist throughout the week as Jews and Muslims mark significant days on their calendars, beginning with the Jerusalem Day march. That’s followed by the end of Ramadan, the Muslim Eid el Fitr holiday and the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, where tens of thousands of Jews traditionally converge on Jerusalem’s Old City for prayer.
A UN spokesman said on Sunday that its chief Antonio Guterres believes Israel "must exercise maximum restraint and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly."
ALSO READ: Israel promotes settlement plan for sensitive East Jerusalem area
Guterres urged Israel to cease demolitions and evictions, and that the status quo at the holy sites be upheld and respected, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
The violence has also drawn denunciations from Arab allies, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which only recently normalized ties with Israel. The US said Friday that it was “extremely concerned about the ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem,” and called on Israeli and Palestinian officials to de-escalate and halt the violence.
Envoys from the Middle East Quartet of regional mediators said they had “serious concern” about the possible evictions inflaming tensions and called on Israeli authorities to exercise restraint.
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