Israeli police on Wednesday blocked crowds of Jewish ultra-nationalist protesters from approaching the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, to prevent more violence after weeks of bloodshed.
Tensions have spiked in Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem amid nearly a month of deadly violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank, with tensions high amid the Jewish Passover festival coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
More than a thousand ultra-nationalist demonstrators waving Israeli flags gathered in the early evening, but the police blocked the crowds from reaching Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Muslim quarter of the Old City.
Among the demonstrators were supporters of far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, a controversial opposition politician.
“We want to go to all of Jerusalem and our government is not letting us,” said Pnina, a 62-year-old civil servant.
Some in the crowd shouted “death to the Arabs”.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem”, and is in contact with parties to press them “to do all they can to lower tensions, avoid inflammatory actions and rhetoric,” according to a statement by his spokesperson in New York.
Ben Gvir himself had been barred from the area of Damascus Gate earlier in the day by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
“I’ll say it clearly, I’m not going to blink, not going to fold,” Ben Gvir said. “I’m not allowed to enter Damascus gate. Based on what law?”
– ‘Provocation’ –
Last year, the Islamist Hamas movement — rulers of the Palestinian enclave of Gaza — launched a barrage of rockets towards Israel when a similar ultra-nationalist march was to begin in the Old City, sparking an 11-day war.
“Some Jews don’t surrender to Hamas,” Ben Gvir added.
Bennett had said earlier in a statement he had blocked Ben Gvir’s rally for security reasons.
“I have no intention of allowing petty politics to endanger human lives,” Bennett said in a statement.
“I will not allow a political provocation by Ben Gvir to endanger IDF (Israeli army) soldiers and Israeli police officers, and render their already heavy task even heavier”.
Ben Gvir responded on Twitter, saying that “Bennett, coalition security is not state security”.
Bennett, himself a right-winger and a key figure in Israel’s settlement movement, leads an ideologically divided coalition government.
Earlier this month, his coalition lost its one-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament, after a member left in a dispute over the use of leavened bread products in hospitals during Passover.
Then on Sunday, the Raam party, drawn from the country’s Arab-Israeli minority, suspended its support for the coalition following violence in and around the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Clashes there between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli forces left more than 170 injured on Friday and Sunday.
Meanwhile, right-wing lawmakers are under pressure to quit the government, which is seen by some on the Israeli right as being too favourable to Palestinians and Israel’s Arab minority.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)