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Visit to holy site by far-right Israeli politician sparks Jerusalem unrest

Palestinians threw missiles at Israeli police after Itamar Ben-Gvir entered a hilltop compound in Jerusalem revered by both Jews and Muslims.

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Members of Jewish youth movements dance and wave Israeli flags on the eve of Jerusalem Day, an Israeli holiday celebrating the capture of the Old City during the 1967 Middle East war, next to the Western Wall in Jerusalem (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

Members of Jewish youth movements dance and wave Israeli flags on the eve of Jerusalem Day, an Israeli holiday celebrating the capture of the Old City during the 1967 Middle East war, next to the Western Wall in Jerusalem (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

Members of Jewish youth movements dance and wave Israeli flags on the eve of Jerusalem Day, an Israeli holiday celebrating the capture of the Old City during the 1967 Middle East war, next to the Western Wall in Jerusalem (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

A far-right Israeli politician, joined by scores of ultranationalist supporters, entered Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site early on Sunday, prompting a crowd of Palestinians to begin throwing rocks and fireworks towards nearby Israeli police.

The unrest erupted ahead of a mass ultranationalist Israeli march planned through the heart of the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City later on Sunday. Some 3,000 Israeli police officers were deployed throughout the city ahead of the march.

Israel said the march is intended to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem, including the Old City, in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, but Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as their capital, see the march as a provocation.

Last year, the parade helped trigger an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza militants.

Sunday’s unrest took place in a contested hilltop compound revered by Jews and Muslims, which is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

It also the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount and revere it as the home of the biblical Temples.

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The competing claims to the site lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have triggered numerous rounds of violence.

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Protesters in Gaza City burn Israeli flags and pictures of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and politician Itamar Ben-Gvir ahead of the ‘Flags March’ through the main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem’s Old City (Adel Hana/AP)

Protesters in Gaza City burn Israeli flags and pictures of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and politician Itamar Ben-Gvir ahead of the ‘Flags March’ through the main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem’s Old City (Adel Hana/AP)

AP/PA Images

Protesters in Gaza City burn Israeli flags and pictures of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and politician Itamar Ben-Gvir ahead of the ‘Flags March’ through the main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem’s Old City (Adel Hana/AP)

Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of a small ultranationalist opposition party and a follower of late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, entered the compound early on Sunday along with dozens of supporters.

Palestinians shouted “God is great” as Mr Ben-Gvir, accompanied by Israeli police, shouted “The Jewish people live”.

Later, a crowd of Palestinians barricaded inside the mosque threw fireworks and stones towards police, who did not immediately respond.

Sunday’s march comes at a time of heightened tensions. Israeli police have repeatedly confronted stone-throwing Palestinian demonstrators in the disputed compound in recent months, often firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.

At the same time, some 19 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian attackers in Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks, while more than 35 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military operations in the occupied West Bank.

Many of those killed were Palestinian militants, but several civilians were also among the dead, including Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known correspondent for the Al Jazeera satellite channel.

Jerusalem police were widely criticised for beating mourners at Ms Abu Akleh’s funeral two weeks ago.

Under longstanding arrangements known as the “status quo” Jewish pilgrims are allowed to enter the hilltop compound but they are not allowed to pray. In recent years, however, the number of Jewish visitors has grown significantly, including some who have been spotted quietly praying.

Such scenes have sparked Palestinian fears that Israel is plotting to take over or divide the area. Israel denies such claims, saying it remains committed to the status quo.


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