Israeli police have beefed up forces in east Jerusalem and blocked busloads of Muslim pilgrims headed to the Al-Aqsa mosque for the holiest night of Ramadan, threatening to escalate already heightened religious tensions that have unleashed the worst unrest in the holy city in years.
Police defended their actions as security moves, but these were seen as provocations by Muslims who accuse Israel of threatening their freedom of worship.
Competing claims in east Jerusalem, home to the city’s most sensitive Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites, lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have triggered major rounds of violence in the past.
Police chief Koby Shabtai said he was deploying more police in Jerusalem following a night of heavy clashes on Friday between Palestinians and Israeli police. Israelis and Palestinians were bracing for more violence in the coming days.
Saturday night is “Laylat al-Qadr” or the “Night of Destiny,” the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Islamic authorities estimated 90,000 people were gathered for intence night prayers at Al-Aqsa.
“The right to demonstrate will be respected but public disturbances will be met with force and zero tolerance. I call on everyone to act responsibly and with restraint,” Shabtai said.