TEL AVIV: Tens of thousands of flag-waving Israelis marched through Jerusalem on Sunday to mark their country’s capture of the city’s east in a 1967 war with tensions heightened due to the holiday coinciding with the final days of Ramadan.
The march, including a large contingent of Jewish religious nationalists, passed under heavy security through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City in what Palestinians see as a provocation.
Some 3,000 police were deployed, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
“We came to celebrate the day,” said Rina Ben Shimol, who came with her husband and their three young children from Kfar Tavor in northern Israel.
“It is Zionism and it’s to strengthen the link with our origins and with the country.”
Earlier in the day, Palestinian worshippers clashed with Israeli police at a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site, also located in the Old City in mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem.
Muslim worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound were angered over Jewish visits to the site — which is holy to both religions — in the final days of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
According to police, protesters barricaded themselves in the mosque, from where they threw chairs and stones at forces who “dispersed” them.
The Muslim Waqf organisation which oversees the site said police used rubber bullets and pepper spray, adding that seven people were arrested and 45 were wounded.
It said police shut the mosque’s doors and chained them.
After the clashes, police spokesman Rosenfeld said calm had returned and visits continued.
Al-Aqsa mosque director Omar al-Kiswani accused Israel of violating an agreement not to allow such visits during the last days of Ramadan.
He said around 1,200 Jews visited the site on Sunday, while a Jewish organisation that arranges visits there reported a similar number.
The clashes took place as Israelis marked Jerusalem Day, which commemorates the country’s capture of the city’s eastern sector in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Unusually, this year’s holiday coincided with the final days of Ramadan.
The status of the Al-Aqsa compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest for Muslims after Mecca and Medina.
Sunday’s visit was the first time since Tuesday that Jews were allowed into the holy site, according to activists.
Jews are allowed to visit the site during set hours but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions. Jewish visits to the site, particularly by religious nationalists, usually increase for Jerusalem Day.
Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said his policy was to do everything possible to keep the site open to visits, especially for Jerusalem Day.
He said preparations to avoid serious unrest included arrests ahead of Sunday based on intelligence, in addition to those in connection with the clashes.
Jordan, the custodian of the holy site and one of only two Arab countries with a peace treaty with Israel, condemned what it said was Israel’s “flagrant violations”, calling the visits “provocative intrusions by extremists.”
Such actions risked setting off violence in the region, a statement from Jordan’s foreign ministry said.
Sunday’s Jerusalem Day march culminates in celebrations at the Western Wall, which is below the Al-Aqsa compound.
The wall is the holiest site where Jews can pray.
Following its seizure in 1967, east Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in a move never recognised by the international community.
Israel proclaims the entire city as its united capital, while the Palestinians see the city’s eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked US President Donald Trump at a ceremony marking the end of the Jerusalem Day festivities.
“Jerusalem has always been the capital of the Jewish people, and I thank President Trump again for affirming this by establishing the American embassy there,” Netanyahu said.