Israel’s Netanyahu calls for ‘calm’ in Jerusalem after violence
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday called for "calm on all sides" after several nights of unrest in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
The prime minister also warned that Israel remains “prepared for all scenarios” after dozens of rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel overnight, prompting Israeli retaliatory air strikes.
Thirty-six rockets were launched, the Israeli army said, the most in a single night this year, after Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas voiced support for the east Jerusalem protests, which were fuelled by a march Thursday by far-right Jews.
The violence was the worst in years between Israeli police and Palestinians in the disputed Holy City.
“We uphold freedom of religion… for all residents and visitors of Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said.
On Thursday, at least 125 people were injured when Palestinian protesters, angered by chants of “death to Arabs” from far-right Jewish demonstrators, clashed repeatedly with police.
– ‘Playing with fire’ –
“The rhetoric of extremist protesters chanting hateful and violent slogans must be firmly rejected,” State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted.
Protesters hurled water bottles at police, who fired stun grenades to disperse them.
In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Palestinians threw stones and petrol bombs towards the tomb of biblical matriarch Rachel, a shrine venerated by Jews and Muslims.
Jerusalem mayor Moshe Lion told public radio he was in talks with Palestinian community leaders in east Jerusalem “to end this pointless violence” and that he had tried to cancel the march.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi condemned “racist attacks” by Israelis against Palestinians in east Jerusalem and called for “international action to protect them”.
UN special coordinator for Middle East peace Tor Wennesland, urged all sides to “exercise maximum restraint and avoid further escalation”, adding “the provocative acts across Jerusalem must cease”.
Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, voiced support for the east Jerusalem protesters.
An alliance of Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas and its smaller ally Islamic Jihad, issued a statement warning we “cannot remain silent” in the face of the violence.
Israeli tanks shelled Gaza in response and launched air strikes on the blockaded coastal enclave controlled by the Muslim militant group Hamas after more rockets were fired.
It said the air strikes involving fighter jets and attack helicopters struck Hamas military targets as well as underground infrastructure and rocket launchers.