Over 60 injured as Israeli police and Palestinians clash during holiest night of Ramadan

9 May 2021, 11:13 | Updated: 9 May 2021, 14:13

By Joe Cook

Israeli police and Palestinian protesters clashed outside Jerusalem's Old City during the holiest night of Ramadan on Saturday, as religious unrest grows in the holy city.

Islamic authorities estimate around 90,000 people gathered for prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Saturday night, for Laylat al-Qadr, or the Night of Destiny, the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The clashes began after police blocked some pilgrims heading to pray at the mosque, Islam's third holiest site, claiming it was necessary as a security move.

However, amid high tensions and nightly violence, this was seen as a provocation by Muslims who accuse Israel of threatening their freedom of worship.

Read more: At least 44 killed and many more injured at stampede at religious festival in Israel

Read more: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to reshuffle shadow cabinet today

Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray during the Laylat al-Qadr, or the night of destiny, at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.
Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray during the Laylat al-Qadr, or the Night of Destiny, at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. Picture: PA
A stun grenade explodes during clashes amid tension outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City.
A stun grenade explodes during clashes amid tension outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City. Picture: PA

A large crowd of protesters chanted "God is great" outside the Old City's Damascus Gate, and some threw rocks and water bottles at officers.

Police patrols responded with stun grenades and water cannon. Palestinian medics say 64 Palestinians were wounded, mostly by rubber bullets, stun grenades or beatings - 11 were hospitalised.

Chief of Police Koby Shabtai said: "The right to demonstrate will be respected but public disturbances will be met with force and zero tolerance. I call on everyone to act responsibly and with restraint."

Read more: More unrest feared as Israeli police bolster presence in Jerusalem

Read more: Major rail disruption to continue 'into next week' after cracks found in trains

An Israeli police officer aims his rifle towards Palestinian demonstrators during clashes at Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem's Old City.
An Israeli police officer aims his rifle towards Palestinian demonstrators during clashes at Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem's Old City. Picture: Oded Balilty/AP/PA
At least 64 Palestinians were injured in demonstrations and violent clashes near Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem on Saturday night, medics said.
At least 64 Palestinians were injured in demonstrations and violent clashes near Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem on Saturday night, medics said. Picture: PA

Early on Sunday, the Israeli military said Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket into an open area in the south of Israel.

Israeli jets struck a military post for Hamas in response, however no casualties were reported in either attack.

The latest tensions comes after a wave of protests broke out at the beginning of Ramadan three weeks ago, triggered by Israel imposing restrictions on gatherings at a popular meeting spot outside Jerusalem's Old City.

The situation was calmed after the restrictions were removed, but protests have reignited in recent days over the threatened evictions in east Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides in their decades-old conflict.

Read more: EU leaders ramp up criticism of US decision to waive Covid vaccine patents

Israeli security forces use a water cannon during a demonstration against the planned eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
Israeli security forces use a water cannon during a demonstration against the planned eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Picture: PA
An injured woman is helped during a demonstration against the planned eviction process for the Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
An injured woman is helped during a demonstration against the planned eviction process for the Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Picture: PA

On Friday, Palestinian medics said more than 200 Palestinians were wounded in 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 US, Europe and the United Nations. The Arab League scheduled an emergency meeting on Monday.

Pope Francis also condemned the violence in an address to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square in Rome on Sunday.

“I pray that the city might be a place of encounter and not of violent clashes, a place of prayer and peace,” he said.

“I invite everyone to seek shared solutions, so that the multi-religious and multi-cultural identity of the Holy City might be respected and that fraternity might prevail.

“Violence generates only violence. Enough with the clashes.”