Israeli police flood Jerusalem as Nakba events begin

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Israeli police flooded the streets of Jerusalem on Friday, fearing violence as Palestinians began marking the “Nakba” or “catastrophe” that befell them following Israel’s establishment in 1948. “The police are on high alert and we have deployed thousands of police officers in and around Jerusalem, as well as in the north,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.
Police said around 8,000 worshippers turned up for Friday Muslim prayers at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound inside the Old City, which is located on a site revered as the holiest place in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam after Mecca and Medina. Hundreds more were left outside the gates of the walled Old City, with police refusing to admit men under 45 who did not hold a blue Israeli identity card, AFP correspondents said. At Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Old City from Arab east Jerusalem, around 500 young men who had been refused entry staged impromptu prayers outside.
Within the city walls, the normally bustling Arab market was almost empty, with police allowing only residents and shopkeepers to enter, alongside those permitted to pray, an AFP correspondent said. Sheikh Azzam Khatib, head of Islamic holy places in Jerusalem, told AFP only 8,000 worshippers had reached the mosque — about a third of the normal turnout on a Friday.
“Today, more than any other day, we felt as if the mosque was under siege,” he told AFP. “Closing the gates of the city and the gates of the mosque, and imposing age restrictions makes people feel uncomfortable. It makes the area feel like a military base.” The morning passed without serious incident, although as the prayers drew to a close, there was some stone throwing near Lion’s Gate, and youths burned tyres in Al-Tur near the Mount of Olives.
Police said 12 Palestinian youths were arrested for public disorder, alongside another 16 who had been detained on Wednesday and Thursday. In the southern West Bank, about 500 people, mostly supporters of the Islamist Hamas movement, marched from a mosque in central Hebron to a square near H2, the sector under Israeli control. They carried posters commemorating the Nakba and held up pictures of keys to abandoned homes, which many refugees still keep in the hope that one day they will be able to return.
Eyewitnesses said a few youths broke away from the main group and tried to reach an Israeli checkpoint in H2 but were blocked by Palestinian police. At Qalandia, a town that straddles the border between the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, about 20 Palestinians stoned Israeli forces who responded with what an army statement called “riot dispersal means” without elaborating. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Palestinians and their Arab-Israeli kin have organised a series of rallies and marches in the run-up to Nakba Day, which will be commemorated on Sunday. Activist behind “The Third Intifada” website were also urging people to march towards homes from which they fled or were forced out of when Israel was created in 1948.