Clashes, prayers in Jerusalem against the Muslim Laylat al-Qadr By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An Israeli policeman points as others point their guns at the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, during clashes with Palestinians

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By Stephen Farrell and Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police broke out outside Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday as tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers prayed in the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque on the holy night of Islam in Laylat al-Qadr.

Palestinian youth threw stones, lit fires and tore down police barricades in the streets that led to the walled gates of the old city when officers on horseback and in riot gear used stun grenades and water cannons to repel them.

At least 80 people were injured, including minors and one year old, and 14 were hospitalized, the Palestinian Red Crescent said. Israeli police said at least one officer was injured.

“They don’t want us to pray. Every day there is a fight, every day there are clashes. Every day there are problems,” said Mahmoud al-Marbua, 27, near the Damascus Gate in the old city. Pointing to the police chasing teenagers and firing thunderbolts at them, he added, “See them shooting at us. How can we live?”

During the Muslim Muslim month of Ramadan, tensions in the city have increased amid mounting anger over the possible eviction of Palestinians from Jerusalem homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered along the border with Israel in the Palestinian Gaza Strip. The Israeli military said the crowd threw burning tires and firecrackers at the troops.

Militants from the Gaza Strip fired at least one missile at Israel, which landed in an open field, the military said.

“We salute the people of Al-Aqsa who oppose the Zionists’ arrogance and call on our people in Palestine to support their brothers by all means,” said Moussa Abu Marzouk, a leader of the armed Islamist group Hamas, which governs Gaza said on Twitter.

Israel said it was stepping up security forces on Saturday in anticipation of further confrontations in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip after violent clashes broke out at Al-Aqsa Mosque last night.

A Palestinian official said Egypt was mediating between the sides to prevent further escalation and that Saturday’s violence was less pronounced than Friday’s events.

On Friday, police fired rubber bullets and drugged grenades at Palestinian youths who were throwing stones at the mosque at Noble Sanctuary / Temple Mount Plaza, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

At least 205 Palestinians and 18 Israeli officers were injured in clashes on Friday, which sparked international condemnation and calls for calm.

Clashes broke out every evening in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, a neighborhood where numerous Palestinian families are being displaced in a longstanding legal battle. Police said dozens of protesters threw stones at officials there on Saturday.

Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai said additional officers would be deployed in Jerusalem on Saturday to “facilitate religious freedom and maintain order and security”.

“At the same time, we will not allow violent riots, violations of the law or harm to police officers. We urge everyone to calm the mood and violence, especially on a day so important for the Muslim religion,” Shabtai said in a statement.

The Israeli military said it was reinforcing troops in the West Bank and near the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians sent incendiary balloons across the border and lit bushfires on Israeli territory. A military spokesman said additional forces would largely be used to fight fires.

QUARTET COMPLAINT

The Middle East quartet of mediators – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – expressed concern about the violence and possible evictions from Jerusalem.

“We urge the Israeli authorities to exercise restraint and avoid any action that would exacerbate the situation during this time of Muslim holidays,” the Quartet said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that law and order would be maintained in Jerusalem, as would the right to worship.

TV footage showed buses of Muslim worshipers driving from Israeli Arab cities to Al-Aqsa and being stopped by police on the main road to Jerusalem.

News of the roadblock, which attracted hundreds of young men from nearby Arab villages and Jerusalem, spread across social media.

Dozens of cars drove the now empty streets in the wrong direction towards Jerusalem, picking up other Muslims who had left their own vehicles to begin the mountain hike on foot. Some sang in Arabic: “With our souls and our blood we will redeem you, Al-Aqsa!”

Police said they only stopped those who wanted to participate in riots before the buses were allowed to continue. Fighting broke out and footage showed officers firing stun grenades.

The tension was expected to remain high for the next few days. The Israeli Supreme Court will hold a hearing on Monday, the day Israel celebrates Jerusalem Day, on the evictions of Sheikh Jarrah – its annual celebration of the conquest of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Israel claims the entire city as its eternal, indivisible capital. The annexation of the eastern part was not recognized internationally.

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