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Jerusalem on edge ahead of provocative Israeli march

Should it go ahead, Monday's march could see anti-Palestinian slogans chanted on the streets of Jerusalem
Outside the Damascus Gate, Israeli security forces restrain a Palestinian protester (AFP)

Jerusalem remained on edge on Sunday after another night of confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, a day ahead of a planned Israeli march security officials warned could spur further violence.

On Monday, a procession is expected to go through the Old City on the occasion of Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s capture and subsequent occupation of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.

Sheikh Jarrah: Israeli eviction push explained
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The so-called Flag March usually brings together thousands of young, far-right religious Israelis chanting anti-Palestinian slogans. 

The prospect of the march adding fuel to the fire after a week of confrontations in the city has prompted Israeli security officials to lobby politicians to either postpone the march or limit the number of attendees and shorten the route.

Tensions peaked on Friday night in Jerusalem when Israeli forces attacked worshippers at the revered al-Aqsa mosque, injuring more than 200. 

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The recent violence stems from a long-running legal effort by Jewish settler groups to evict 40 Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem.

A lower court ruling earlier this year backing the settlers' decades-old claim to the plots infuriated Palestinians.

A Supreme Court hearing on a Palestinian appeal had been set for Monday but with a day to go, the Israeli justice ministry delayed the court hearing.

Nevertheless, in a continued show of solidarity with residents in Sheikh Jarrah,  Palestinians took the streets in cities across Israel, as well as in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza strip. 

Considerable force

They were met with considerable force.

In Haifa, northern Israel, Israeli forces arrested at least 18 people and fired stun grenades to clear the protesters from the streets. 

The Palestine Red Crescent Society reported that at least 14 people were wounded in Jerusalem after a heavy-handed Israeli police crackdown.

Police fired stun grenades and "skunk" water cannons spraying foul-smelling water at Palestinians outside the Old City's Damascus Gate, arresting at least 20.

And in Sheikh Jarrah, police officers on horseback and riot gear moved in on a group of protesters who had gathered to clap, sing protest songs, and strum an oud, a traditional stringed instrument.

On Sunday, solidarity protests also took part in cities around the world, including Amman, Berlin, Chicago and Istanbul. 

In the UK, hundreds of people gathered outside Downing Street in London to protest, chanting slogans and waving Palestinian flags. Protests also took place in Bradford, Birmingham and Manchester.

Global condemnation

British politicians on Sunday added to a chorus of condemnation over Israel’s actions, with Labour party’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy saying it was “totally unacceptable” to see violence used against worshippers at the al-Aqsa mosque.

Speaking to MEE, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on US president Joe Biden to bring “enormous pressure and influence on the Israeli government” to halt the eviction of families from Sheikh Jarrah.

For its part, in a statement released late on Sunday, Washington reiterated an earlier call for both sides to dial down the violence - a demand which infuriated Palestinian activists at the weekend.

The violence has prompted the United Nations Security Council to call a private meeting on Monday.

Ball in Israel's court

The ball is firmly in Israel's court.  What its next move will be is anyone’s guess.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday doubled down in the face of international criticism of the evictions, insisting Israel will continue to build settlements, in violation of international law. 

'We have to defend our land'

-  Sheikh Jarrah resident

Defending the crackdowns by Israeli forces, Netanyahu said: "We will uphold law and order – vigorously and responsibly.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s police commissioner Kobi Shabtai is reported to be actively lobbying for Monday’s incendiary march to go ahead as planned.

Whether or not tomorrow’s march does go ahead, Sheikh Jarrah's residents say they have nothing to fear.

“This is our right, and this is our land,” one told MEE. “We have to defend our land.”