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Israeli forces block far-right protesters from Jerusalem's Muslim quarter

By AFP - Apr 20,2022 - Last updated at Apr 20,2022

Israeli forces keep Palestinians at bay in front of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, as they gather to watch Israeli protesters marching with national flags towards Tzahal square on Wednesday, during the 'flags march' organised by nationalist parties (AFP photo)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israeli forces prevented hundreds of Jewish ultra-nationalist protesters from approaching Jerusalem's Muslim quarter on Wednesday to prevent more violence after weeks of tensions.

More than a thousand ultra-nationalist demonstrators carrying Israeli flags gathered in the early evening in a square outside the Old City.

The forces blocked hundreds of protesters from reaching Damascus Gate, which is the main entrance to the Muslim quarter of the city, according to AFP teams at the site.

Tensions have spiked in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem amid nearly a month of deadly violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank, with the Jewish Passover festival coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"We want to go to all of Jerusalem and our government is not letting us," said Pnina, a 62-year-old civil servant.

Among the demonstrators were supporters of far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, a controversial opposition politician. Some demonstrators shouted "death to the Arabs".

Ben Gvir himself had been barred from the area earlier in the day by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

"I have no intention of allowing petty politics to endanger human lives," Bennett said in a statement. "I will not allow a political provocation by Ben Gvir to endanger Israeli forces and render their already heavy task even heavier."

"Bennett, coalition security is not state security," Ben Gvir responded on Twitter.

Bennett, himself a right-winger and a key figure in Israel's settlement movement, leads an ideologically divided coalition government.

Earlier this month, his coalition lost its one-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel's parliament, after a member left in a dispute over the use of leavened bread products in hospitals during Passover.

Then on Sunday, the Raam Party, drawn from the country's Arab-Israeli minority, suspended its support for the coalition following violence in and around Al Aqsa Mosque compound, where clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli forces left more than 170 injured on Friday and Sunday.

Meanwhile, right-wing lawmakers are under pressure to quit the government, which is seen by some on the Israeli right as being too favourable to Palestinians and Israel's Arab minority.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem" and is in contact with parties to press them "to do all they can to lower tensions, avoid inflammatory actions and rhetoric", according to a statement by his spokesperson in New York.

Last year, the Islamist Hamas movement — rulers of the Palestinian enclave of Gaza — launched a barrage of rockets towards Israel when a similar ultra-nationalist march was to begin in the Old City, sparking an 11-day war.

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