Explainer-Jerusalem tense over evictions and holidays


FILE PHOTO: Palestinians pray in front of the Dome of the Rock on Laylat al-Qadr during the holy month of Ramadan, at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 8, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - East Jerusalem has seen nightly clashes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with Palestinians pitted against Israeli police and settlers.

The issues and the scale of the protests have varied, covering religion, land and politics, but running through them all is the core conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over the city, which has sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Here are some of the factors that have brought Jerusalem to near boiling point:

When did the protests start?

From the beginning of Ramadan in mid-April, Palestinians clashed nightly with Israeli police, who put up barriers to stop evening gatherings at the walled Old City's Damascus Gate after iftar, the breaking of the daytime fast.

Palestinians saw the barriers as a restriction on their freedom to assemble. Police said they were there to maintain order.

Why did the violence flare up again?

An Israeli Supreme Court hearing was due on May 10 in a long-running legal case about whether several Palestinian families would be evicted and their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood near Damascus Gate that was given to Israeli settlers.

Some settlers have already moved into the street affected - living next door to the Palestinians facing possible removal.

As the court hearing neared, Palestinians and left-wing Israelis began holding larger demonstrations, saying more evictions could cause a domino effect throughout the overwhelmingly Palestinian neighbourhood.

Sheikh Jarrah also contains a site revered by religious Jews as the tomb of an ancient high priest, Simon the Just, leading to frequent tensions between Palestinian living there and religious Jews visiting it.

International attention

The case, in which a lower court ruled that the land in question belonged to Jews in East Jerusalem before the 1948 War, has gathered domestic and international attention, amid criticism of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem.

On Sunday U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to his Israeli counterpart to express “serious concerns about the potential evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood,” the White House said.

And United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed "his deep concern over the continuing violence in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the possible evictions of Palestinian families from their homes," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Sunday.

What next?

On Sunday the Supreme Court hearing on the evictions was postponed, pushing at least one flashpoint past the end of Ramadan and allowing more time for a resolution. A new session will be scheduled within 30 days.

Monday is Jerusalem Day, Israel's annual commemoration of its capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 war. The event usually sees a march through the walled Old City by Jewish pilgrims, including ultra-nationalists, which could be another flashpoint.

Why is Jerusalem so sensitive?

Politics, history and religion.

At the heart of Jerusalem's Old City is the hill known to Jews across the world as Temple Mount - the holiest site in Judaism - and to Muslims internationally as The Noble Sanctuary. It was home to the Jewish temples of antiquity. Two Muslim holy places now stand there, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam.

Christians also revere the city as the place where they believe that Jesus preached, died and was resurrected.

Israel sees all of Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern section as a capital of a future state. Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem is unrecognized internationally.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Stephen Farrell, Raissa Kasolowsky and Gerry Doyle)

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