Violence erupted by one of the entrances to the walled Old City on Thursday night when ultra-nationalist right-wing Israelis chanting “death to Arabs” took to the streets, and police mounted on horseback tried to separate them from a counter-protest by Palestinian youths hurling firecrackers.
Tensions have soared since the start of Ramadan on 13 April, with Palestinians saying that police have tried to prevent them from holding their usual evening gatherings outside Damascus Gate, a historic landmark on the north side of the Old City, when they break their fast.
There has also been a week of violent assaults on Israeli-Arab and Palestinian residents of central Jerusalem, after videos appeared on social media app TikTok purporting to show Palestinians assaulting ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Damascus Gate area.
Thursday’s march was called by an anti-Arab group, Lehava, and saw hundreds of ultra-nationalist Israelis – many of them young and religious – marching through central Jerusalem chanting, “death to Arabs”, and waving banners reading, “death to terrorists”.
The police said they then tried to enter the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah but were blocked by the security forces.
Hundreds of Israeli police in riot gear sealed off the area to prevent the rival sides from meeting, and later walked up and down Sultan Suleiman Street along the Old City walls spraying a foul-smelling liquid – known as skunk water – and teargas to disperse the crowds and arrest protesters.
The Palestinians dragged rubbish bins into the roads and some discharged small fireworks towards police.
Israeli police said they arrested more than 50 people overnight, without distinguishing between the numbers of Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestine Red Crescent meanwhile said that 100 Palestinians had been injured in clashes with security forces, with 21 taken to hospital for treatment, although none of the injuries were serious.
Israeli police defended the decision to clear the area by Damascus Gate during Ramadan, saying the measure is part of its efforts to ensure that tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers have safe access to the main Islamic prayer site in the Old City.
“Since Damascus Gate is the main way to reach and enter the Old City, police forces carry out field activities using various means to prevent friction, violence and confrontation, and to maintain order and security in the area,” said a police statement.
With additional reporting from agencies
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