Flag-waving Israelis take to streets, skirmishes erupt in Al-Aqsa mosque

JERUSALEM (REUTERS) – Tens of thousands of flag-waving Israeli nationalists, some chanting “Death to Arabs”, marched through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday (May 29), defying threats of retaliation from Palestinian militants.

The annual parade celebrates Israel’s capture of Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, but has increasingly become a show of strength for Jewish nationalists eager to extend their influence in a city which has a large Palestinian population.

Many marchers sang and danced as they wound their way through the narrow, stone streets. Others sought confrontation.

“An Arab is a son of a whore,” a group of youths yelled in front of Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Old City’s Muslim neighbourhood. “May your villages burn,” another group shouted.

Adding to the tensions, police said a record 2,600 Jews had toured Al-Aqsa esplanade ahead of the march. Looking to halt the visits, Palestinians hurled stones and set off fireworks, before being pushed back by police firing stun grenades.

Some of the Jews wore religious garb and appeared to pray, ignoring a long-standing ban on Jewish worship in the compound.

A few held up Israeli flags and sang the national anthem.

The preacher of the mosque, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, denounced their behaviour. “What happened today in Al-Aqsa mosque hadn’t taken place since 1967,” he told Reuters.

Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount – a vestige of their faith’s two ancient temples.

The Islamist group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip and has cast itself as a defender of Muslim Jerusalem, condemned Sunday’s mass visit, which went viral on social media.

“The Israeli government is fully responsible for all these reckless policies and the following consequences,” senior Hamas official Bassem Naim told Reuters.

Pepper spray

Hamas fired rockets into Israel during last year’s march, triggering an 11-day war that killed at least 250 Palestinians in Gaza and 13 people in Israel. Despite threatening violence this year, the Gaza border remained quiet as night descended.

By contrast, clashes were reported across the occupied West Bank on Sunday, injuring more than 160 Palestinians, including 20 people hit by live bullets, medics said.

Palestinian shopkeepers in Jerusalem shuttered their stalls hours before the parade was due to start and fights broke out sporadically as the marchers penetrated the Muslim district. One Israeli youth was videoed using pepper spray on a Palestinian woman, leading to an exchange of punches and kicks.


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