Thousands of Israeli settlers have staged a controversial march in the Israeli-occupied Old City of al-Quds (Jerusalem), sparking tensions in the area.
The march was held on Sunday on the eve of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and was controversially planned to coincide with the 49th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of East al-Quds’ Old City. It is held on the same day every year.
Scuffles erupted between the settlers and some local Palestinians as the extremist Israelis chanted slogans, vowing to burn down the al-Aqsa Mosque, a holy site highly regarded by Palestinians.
Palestinian shopkeepers were ordered to close their stores along the route of the march, but some refused to comply.
“I am not afraid. This is my shop. This is my Jerusalem. I am not closing,” said Ahmed Dandes, a tailor who sells men’s trousers at the Damascus Gate.
An Israeli court on Thursday had rejected a petition by the Ir Amim non-profit group and Amir Cheshin, a former Arab affairs adviser to Jerusalem’s mayor, to ban the march from passing through the Muslim Quarter in the Old City of al-Quds to avoid possible clashes with Palestinians, according to Israeli Haaretz newspaper.
Israeli human rights attorney Itay Mack, the representative of the petitioners, said, “This decision [on the route] is extremely unreasonable and seriously impinges on basic rights… of residents and merchants within the Muslim Quarter and outside it.”
The court decision was also denounced by Israeli parliament member Yousef Jabareen, who called the march “provocative, racist, and violent, whose objective is to threaten the Palestinian vendors in the Muslim Quarter and visitors to the Quarter.”
Meanwhile, some 208 Israeli settlers stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque’s compound under tight Israeli police protection. However, the mosque guards prevented some of them from performing religious rituals.
The Palestinian Islamic endowment organization Waqf also decried the settlers’ “provocative” actions at the compound.
The al-Aqsa Mosque compound, highly revered by Muslims, is a flashpoint. In August last year, restrictions were imposed on Palestinian worshipers visiting the holy site, prompting the fury of the Palestinians and a series of tensions that continues to this day.
Palestinians are also angry over Israeli settler attacks in the occupied territories and repeated desecrations of the al-Aqsa compound by extremist settlers, who are usually accompanied by Israeli military forces.
At least 210 Palestinians, including children and women, have lost their lives at the hands of Israeli forces in the tensions that have followed.
Israel seized control of East al-Quds following the six-day war of 1967. It later annexed the area in a move never recognized by the international community.