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Israeli police threaten ‘forceful’ response to Palestinian protests

This photo taken from Israeli media shows commander of East Jerusalem al-Quds Police, Yoram Halevi, speaking to the media on July 27, 2017.

Israeli police chief in East Jerusalem al-Quds has threatened a “forceful response” to possible Palestinian protests during Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, warning that there will be “casualties” in case of such demonstrations.

“If there are people who try tomorrow to disturb the peace, to harm police or citizens, they should not be surprised: There will be casualties and people injured,” Times of Israel quoted Yoram Halevi as saying on Thursday.

“Do not test us, because we know how to respond, and we know how to respond directly and forcefully,” Halevi added.

He made the remarks after Muslim leaders called on Palestinian worshipers to return to prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque when Israel backed down in the face of days of angry protests and removed all the restrictions at the holy site. 

Muslims had been refusing to hold prayers at the mosque and prayed in the streets around the Old City for almost two weeks after Israel installed security equipment, including metal detectors and cameras, at the sacred compound following a deadly shooting incident there on July 14.

The demonstrations claimed the lives of five Palestinians and injured nearly 400.

Halevi pointed to the likelihood of “victory celebrations” and warned Palestinians to keep in mind that the Israeli police are still in charge of security at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“Those who tried to claim differently should know there is Israeli sovereignty on the Mount (Haram al-Sharif compound). This is a place that we will protect under all circumstances, at any stage, in any situation,” he said.

The police chief pledged to continue checking worshipers entering the mosque, saying, “We will check anyone suspicious, anyone who we think could disturb the peace, anyone who could be an attacker. They will be stopped at the gate, they will be checked as we have done in the past.”

Later on Thursday, clashes broke out again between Israeli military forces and Palestinians at al-Aqsa Mosque as thousands of Muslim worshipers entered the holy site. The clashes left 46 people severely wounded both inside the mosque compound and in the immediate area.

On Friday morning, Israeli police issued a statement, saying they would bar men under 50 from Friday Muslim prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque and block a number of roads leading to the holy site.

‘Israel playing with fire’

Israel’s recent restrictive measures have drawn widespread international condemnations.

On Thursday, the Arab League warned that Israel’s policies could ignite a “religious war” in the region. 

Israel’s actions are “playing with fire, and will only ignite a religious war and shift the core of the conflict from politics to religion,” Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said in a televised speech at an urgent meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on the latest conflicts in al-Quds.

Abul Gheit further called on the “occupying” regime “to carefully learn the lessons from this crisis and the message it holds.”

Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit attends the Arab Foreign Ministers' meeting in Cairo on July 27, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Following the urgent meeting, the Arab foreign ministers issued a joint statement, condemning the Israeli policies.

The Arab League “condemns in the strongest terms Israel’s plans and policies that aim to Judaize the occupied city of Jerusalem and distort its Arab and Muslim character,” the statement said. 

“East Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state,” the Arab League statement said, censuring “all measures by the occupying force to diminish Palestinian rights of sovereignty over it.”

The occupied Palestinian territories have witnessed new tensions ever since Israeli forces introduced restrictions on the entry of Palestinian worshipers into the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem al-Quds in August 2015.

More than 300 Palestinians have lost their lives at the hands of Israeli forces in the ongoing tensions since the beginning of October 2015.

The Tel Aviv regime has tried to change the demographic makeup of Jerusalem al-Quds over the past decades by constructing settlements, destroying historical sites and expelling the local Palestinian population. Palestinians say the Israeli measures are aimed at paving the way for the Judaization of the city.

The al-Aqsa Mosque compound is a flashpoint Islamic site, which is also holy to Jews. The mosque is Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

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