Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians boiled over this week, escalating rapidly into one of the worst rounds of violence between the two sides in the last several years.
An already tense situation prompted by moves to evict Palestinian families from their homes near the Old City in Jerusalem exploded at one of the holiest sites in the city, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. Israeli police entered the Al Aqsa Mosque and clashed with Palestinians inside the sacred site, firing stun grenades while Palestinians threw stones. The resulting clashes there and in other parts of the Old City left hundreds of Palestinians and some Israeli police officers injured. Palestinian militant groups in Gaza joined the fray by firing rockets into Israel, which responded with airstrikes.
By the following day, a United Nations representative was warning the situation was “escalating towards a full-scale war.” “Stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full-scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of de-escalation,” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said. But putting a lid on the violence may not be easy. Political, religious, and nationalist factors all play a role in the situation.
The city had been on edge for several weeks, with Palestinians angered over the closure of a popular plaza just as Ramadan was beginning, and as a years-long legal battle to remove seven Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem appeared set to end with eviction. The families have been living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, just north of the Old City, since 1956 — in an arrangement brokered by the United Nations to find homes in Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem for families who lost their property in what became the state of Israel in 1948.