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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
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.
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."
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.
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.”