(Asian News Hub) – Palestinian protesters threw rocks and Israeli police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes outside al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on Monday, as Israel marked the anniversary of its capture of parts of the city in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said more than 275 Palestinians were injured in the violence, and at least 205 of them were taken to hospitals. Several of the Palestinians were in critical condition and police said 12 officers were injured.
Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest site, has been a focal point of violence in Jerusalem throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The clashes have raised international concern.
Tensions were particularly high as Israel marked “Jerusalem Day”, its annual celebration of the capture of East Jerusalem and the walled Old City that is home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy places.
In an effort to ease the situation, Israeli police said they had banned Jewish groups from paying Jerusalem Day visits to the holy plaza that houses al-Aqsa, and which Jews revere as the site of biblical Jewish temples.
Police were also considering whether to reroute a traditional Jerusalem Day march in which thousands of Israeli flag-waving Jewish youth walk through the Old City’s Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter.
Police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at hundreds of Palestinians who hurled rocks at them on al-Aqsa’s stone-strewn plaza, witnesses said.
The violence at the holy compound abated several hours after it began and witnesses said Israeli police had begun allowing Palestinians over the age of 40 to enter.
In public remarks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was determined to uphold law and order in Jerusalem while preserving “freedom of worship and tolerance for all”.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, accused “Israeli occupation forces” of conducting a “brutal raid” at al-Aqsa.
Israel views all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern part that it annexed in a move that has not won international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they seek in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Tensions have also been fuelled by the planned evictions of several Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.
Israel’s attorney-general secured a deferment on Sunday of a Supreme Court hearing on Monday in the long-running evictions case that had threatened to stoke more violence.
A lower court had found in favour of Jewish settlers’ claim to the land on which the Palestinians’ homes are located, a decision seen by Palestinians as an attempt by Israel to drive them out of contested Jerusalem.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan expressed “serious concerns” about the situation in Jerusalem, including the potential evictions, in a call with his Israeli counterpart on Sunday.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed on Sunday his concern over the situation.
Saudi Arabia says Hajj to be limited to 60,000 in kingdom
(Asian News Hub) – Saudi Arabia announced Saturday this year’s hajj pilgrimage will be limited to no more than 60,000 people, all of them from within the kingdom, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement by the kingdom comes after it ran an incredibly pared-down pilgrimage last year over the virus, but still allowed a small number of the faithful to take part in the annual ceremony.
A statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted the kingdom’s Hajj and Umrah Ministry making the announcement. It said this year’s hajj, which will begin in mid-July, will be limited to those ages 18 to 65.
Those taking part must be vaccinated as well, the ministry said.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is honored to host pilgrims every year, confirms that this arrangement comes out of its constant concern for the health, safety and security of pilgrims as well as the safety of their countries,” the statement said.
In last year’s hajj, as few as 1,000 people already residing in Saudi Arabia were selected to take part in the hajj. Two-thirds were foreign residents from among the 160 different nationalities that would have normally been represented at the hajj. One-third were Saudi security personnel and medical staff.
Each year, up to 2 million Muslims perform the hajj, a physically demanding and often costly pilgrimage that draws the faithful from around the world. The hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims to perform once in their lifetime, is seen as a chance to wipe clean past sins and bring about greater humility and unity among Muslims.
The kingdom’s Al Saud ruling family stakes its legitimacy in this oil-rich nation on overseeing and protecting the hajj sites. Ensuring the hajj happens has been a priority for them.
Disease outbreaks have always been a concern surrounding the hajj. Pilgrims fought off a malaria outbreak in 632, cholera in 1821 killed an estimated 20,000, and another cholera outbreak in 1865 killed 15,000 before spreading worldwide.
More recently, Saudi Arabia faced danger from a different coronavirus, one that causes the Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. The kingdom increased its public health measures during the hajj in 2012 and 2013, urging the sick and the elderly not to take part.
In recent years, Saudi officials also instituted bans on pilgrims coming from countries affected by the Ebola virus.
Saudi Arabia had closed its borders for months to try and stop the spread of the coronavirus. Since the start of the pandemic, the kingdom has reported over 462,000 cases of the virus with 7,500 deaths. It has administered some 15.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, according to the World Health Organization. The kingdom is home to over 30 million people.
Egypt invites Israel and Hamas for direct talks in Cairo, Israel accepts
(Asian News Hub) – Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the latest developments between Israelis and Palestinians reaffirmed the need for direct talks between the two sides with Washington’s involvement.
Egypt invited Israel and Gaza to Cairo to discuss the return of captives and the rebuilding of the Gaza Strip, Kan News reported. “Israel’s delegation is expected to arrive in Egypt in the beginning of next week,” Galatz, Israel’s army radio tweeted in response to the invitation.
“The goal- to come to an understanding regarding the ceasefire and possibilities for helping the [Gaza] Strip,” it added.
Blinken visited Cairo for several hours on Wednesday as part of a Middle East tour aimed at shoring up a ceasefire that ended the worst fighting in years between Israel and Palestinian militants.
He then went on to visit Jordan in the last leg of his Middle East tour.
Washington and Cairo agreed to strengthen their coordination in consolidating the ceasefire and launching the reconstruction process in the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian presidency said in its statement.
Israel warned about actions against Palestinians in Jerusalem
(Asian News Hub) – Palestine has warned Israel about actions against Palestinians, especially in East Jerusalem, noting they may lead to more tension in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The warning was issued by Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh here on Sunday after social media activists published short videos of Israeli police forces attacking Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, reports Xinhua news agency.
“The Israeli government is fully responsible for sabotaging the efforts of ending the Israeli aggression,” Abu Rudeineh said.
Renewing the measures against the Palestinians in East Jerusalem “would sabotage the international and Arab efforts to reconstruct what had been destroyed in the Gaza Strip”, he added.
Abu Rudeineh called on the US “to immediately intervene to stop the provocative Israeli actions and measures”.
On May 10, the Israeli police restricted Arab worshippers’ movement in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, stirring up tension and violence that soon expanded to the entire West Bank and Gaza.
Later, militant groups in Gaza fired barrages of rockets toward Israel.
In response, Israeli fighter jets carried out dozens of airstrikes on the Palestinian coastal enclave.
The trade of fire that lasted 11 days and ended on May 31 with an Egypt-brokered ceasefire killed 248 Palestinians and 12 Israelis, according to official figures from the two sides.