Holy days should be for reflection, not violence, UN Chief says in statement on Jerusalem
Tensions have been running high across the Palestinian territories since the beginning of April amid repeated Israeli arrest campaigns in the occupied West Bank. Dozens of Palestinian worshippers were injured Friday when Israeli forces stormed the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.
UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced deep concern Wednesday about the “deteriorating situation” in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and violence in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, while underscoring the need to avoid the excessive use of force.
Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement that Guterres is actively “engaged with leaders to do all they can to lower tensions, avoid inflammatory actions and rhetoric, and restore calm.”
“The provocations must stop immediately. The ongoing holy days for Muslims, Jews, and Christians should be a period of peace and reflection, not incitement and violence,” he added.
The UN chief also reiterated that the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem must be upheld and respected.
“He is committed to supporting Palestinians and Israelis to resolve the conflict on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.
“The Secretary-General also reaffirms the need to avoid the excessive use of force and to stop all unilateral measures, like settlements and evictions, that can undermine the two-state solution,” the statement said. Tensions have been running high across the Palestinian territories since the beginning of April amid repeated Israeli arrest campaigns in the occupied West Bank. Dozens of Palestinian worshippers were injured Friday when Israeli forces stormed the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. Daily settler incursions into the site to celebrate the week-long Jewish Passover holiday have further inflamed the situation. Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. It annexed the entire city in 1980, in a move never recognized by the international community. Palestinian militants fired several rockets into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip early Thursday and Israeli aircraft hit militant targets in Gaza, part of an escalation that was eerily similar to the run-up to last year’s Israel-Gaza war.
The cross-border strikes came against the backdrop of Israeli-Palestinian tensions that have been boiling in Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, hundreds of flag-waving Israeli ultra-nationalists marched toward predominantly Palestinian areas around Jerusalem’s Old City, a demonstrative display of Israeli control over the disputed city seen as a provocation by Palestinians.
Police closed the main road leading to the Damascus Gate of the Old City, the epicenter of last year’s unrest preceding an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas. After some pushing and shoving with police, the marchers rallied near the barricades, waving flags, singing and chanting.
A hilltop shrine in the Old City is the emotional ground zero of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a flashpoint for previous rounds of violence. Known to Muslims as the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, it is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site in Judaism, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, the site of their biblical temples.
For Palestinians, the mosque compound, administered by Muslim clerics, is also a rare place in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem where they have a measure of control. Palestinians seek east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as a future capital.
Palestinian militant groups in Gaza — the ruling Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad — have positioned themselves as defenders of the Jerusalem holy site. On Wednesday, Hamas said Israel would bear “full responsibility for the repercussions” if it allowed the marchers “to approach our holy sites.”
Several rockets were fired from Gaza overnight. Four rockets fired early Thursday were intercepted by Israel, the military said. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage, and no one claimed the rocket strikes. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all rocket fire.