Israeli police beef up presence in Jerusalem, fearing unrest

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s national police chief on Saturday announced that he was beefing up forces in Jerusalem ahead of expected disturbances in the coming days following a night of heavy clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the holy city.

Palestinian medics said more than 200 Palestinians were wounded in the Friday night clashes at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and elsewhere in Jerusalem. The violence drew condemnations from Israel’s Arab allies, and calls for calm from the United States and Europe.

Israel has been dealing with the heaviest unrest in Jerusalem in several years, with near-nightly clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters throughout the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The protests broke out at the beginning of Ramadan three weeks ago when Israel restricted gatherings at a popular meeting spot outside Jerusalem’s Old City. Israel removed the restrictions, briefly calming the situation, but protests have reignited in recent days over the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides in their decades-old conflict.

Other recent developments, including the cancellation of Palestinian elections, deadly violence in which a Palestinian teenager, two Palestinian gunmen and a young Israeli man were killed in separate incidents in the West Bank, and the election to Israel’s parliament of a far-right Jewish nationalist party, also

It was unclear what set off the violence at Al-Aqsa, which erupted when Israeli police in riot gear deployed in large numbers as thousands of Muslim worshippers were holding evening prayers at the sprawling hilltop esplanade.

Throughout the night large groups of protesters could be seen hurling rocks as Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades. At one point, the police entered one of the buildings in the complex, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock.

The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 88 of the wounded were hospitalized. The Palestinian Health Ministry said 83 people were wounded by rubber-coated bullets, including three who were shot in the eye, two with serious head injuries and two with broken jaws.

The Israeli police said protesters hurled stones, fireworks and other objects at them, wounding 17 officers, half of whom were hospitalized.

The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the biblical temples. It has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was the epicenter of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Saturday night is “Laylat al-Qadr” or the “Night of Destiny,” the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Thousands of worshippers were expected to gather for intense nighttime prayers at Al-Aqsa.

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