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May 10, 2021

Pope urges end to clashes in Jerusalem

May 10, 2021

JERUSALEM: Pope Francis on Sunday called for an end to violence in annexed east Jerusalem, where clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police have left scores of Palestinians injured.

After delivering his Regina Caeli prayer Sunday from the window overlooking St Peter’s Square, the Pope said he was “following with particular concern the events that are happening in Jerusalem”.

“I pray so that this might be a place of encounter and not violent clashes, a place of prayer and of peace,” he said. “I invite everyone to seek shared resolutions so that the multi-religious identity and multi-culture of the holy city might be respected and so that fraternity might prevail”. Tensions ran high Sunday in east Jerusalem after hundreds of Palestinians were wounded in a weekend of clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces, sparking global concern that the unrest could spread further.

The Pope also offered his prayers for the victims of the attack Saturday on a school in Kabul, describing it as “an inhumane action that killed many girls as they were leaving school”.

“Let us pray for all of them and for their families, and that God might grant peace to Afghanistan,” he said. Finally, the Argentine pontiff offered some words for a small crowd of people bearing Colombian flags who had come to St Peter’s Square hoping for some reference to the demonstrations and clashes in their country. “I would also like to express my concern for the tension and violent clashes in Colombia which have left many wounded. There are many Colombians here, let’s pray for your country,” he added.

Meanwhile, Arab countries, including four that last year agreed to normalise relations with Israel, have condemned a weekend of violence after hundreds of Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli security forces.

The violence around east Jerusalem’s revered Al-Aqsa mosque compound and the Old City is the worst since 2017, fuelled by a years-long bid by Jewish settlers to take over Palestinian homes.

Criticism of Israeli conduct has poured in from Sudan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain - all nations that last year agreed to normalise, or normalised, relations with the Jewish state.

Khartoum labelled Israeli measures in Jerusalem against Palestinians as “repression”, and “coercive action” in a foreign ministry statement late Saturday.

It called on the Israeli government “to refrain from taking unilateral steps that diminish the chances for resuming peace negotiations”.

The UAE and Bahrain condemned Friday’s storming of Al-Aqsa mosque by Israeli security forces, and the ensuing crackdown on worshippers seeking to access the site.

Abu Dhabi urged Israeli authorities to “take responsibility for de-escalation” of violence at the holy site, while Manama called on the Israeli government “to stop these rejected provocations against the people of Jerusalem”.

Meanwhile, Morocco expressed “deep concern” over the violence saying King Mohammed VI “considers these violations... (are) likely to fuel tensions”.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said it “rejected” Israeli plans to evacuate Palestinian households from Jerusalem, and called for the reinstatement of the pre-1967 borders.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem during the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it, in a move not recognised by most of the international community.

Israel vowed Sunday to restore order in Jerusalem after hundreds of Palestinian protesters were injured in a weekend of clashes with Israeli security forces, while the justice ministry put off a key court ruling on a flashpoint property dispute.

Consecutive nights of violence around the revered Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City has been the worst since 2017, fuelled by a years-long bid by Jewish settlers to take over nearby Palestinian homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

Ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel “would decisively and responsibly impose law and order in Jerusalem”.

Amid growing international calls for de-escalation, Tunisia said the UN Security Council was to hold a closed-door meeting Monday, at its request, to discuss the violence.

Some 121 Palestinians were wounded in Saturday’s overnight clashes, many hit by rubber bullets and stun grenades, the Palestinian Red Crescent said. Israeli police said 17 of its officers were wounded.

The previous night more than 220 people, again mostly Palestinians, were hurt as police stormed Al-Aqsa, saying Palestinians had thrown rocks and fireworks at officers.

Four Arab countries that normalised ties with Israel over the past year - the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan - all condemned Israel’s actions and voiced support for the Palestinians.

The Unicef said over two days, 29 Palestinian children had been injured in east Jerusalem, including a one-year-old. Eight Palestinian children have been arrested, it said.

On Saturday night, thousands of Palestinians packed Al-Aqsa mosque compound for special Ramazan prayers at Islam’s third-holiest site, which Jews revere as the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel would maintain “freedom of worship for all religions”.

But police set up roadblocks the previous night, saying they wanted to limit access to the Old City and avoid “violent riots” - effectively preventing hundreds from praying.

An AFP reporter saw police stop at least one bus heading to east Jerusalem and detain some Palestinians, while hundreds of others marched on highways to the Holy City.

“They want to stop us from going to Al-Aqsa,” said Ali al-Komani, 40, outside the holy site.

In Gaza, Palestinians Saturday packed tyres inside vehicles and drove to the border with Israel where they set them on fire. They also fired incendiary balloons across the frontier.

The violence has sparked international calls for calm, including from Pope Francis. “Violence only generates violence. Let’s stop these clashes,” he said. The Middle East Quartet of envoys from the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations expressed “deep concern” and called for restraint.

The US State Department has urged both sides to “avoid steps that exacerbate tensions”.

Russia said the expropriation of land and property in the occupied Palestinian territories including east Jerusalem was “a violation of international law”.