Dozens of Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli forces on Sunday, as parts of occupied East Jerusalem were sealed off to allow Israeli nationalists to hold a controversial march.
Israelis rallied at the Old City’s Damascus Gate waving national flags, with some chanting “death to Arabs”, as marchers commemorated their military’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The Israeli police deployed thousands of officers to secure the Jerusalem Day event, which was slammed as “provocative” by the UN and Palestinians.
Palestinians were kept away from their traditional gathering point of Damascus Gate by Israeli forces for the duration of the event.
“Jerusalem is for the Jewish people,” said Mayan Hacarmi, an 18-year-old marcher, as thousands of flag-bearers arrived at the entryway to the Old City.
Beyond the barriers, The National saw the security forces using stun grenades, rubber bullets and mounted officers against Palestinians.
Stones littered the ground in the East Jerusalem neighbourhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah, with Israeli police saying 50 suspects had been arrested accused of offences such as throwing rocks and assaulting officers.
In one incident, Palestinians and Israelis hurled stones at each other a few hundred metres from Damascus Gate.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said their medics treated around 80 people injured by rubber bullets, pepper spray, beatings and falls.
A Palestinian woman and an Israeli journalists were among those pepper sprayed inside the Old City, allegedly by Israeli nationalists.
Medics from Israel’s Magen David Adom said they treated six people hurt by rocks.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday marked Jerusalem Day as "the unity of our capital".
"On this day we commit ourselves: Jerusalem will never again be divided; the people of Israel will never again be divided," said the Israeli premier.
While Israel claims sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem, the Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
At Damascus Gate, a Jewish American student described the Israeli celebrations as “a special day”.
“Coming through this gate is to make a point,” said 20-year-old Mendel Leverton.
“If you walk through here you’re really showing it’s ours, not just Jaffa Gate, not just that area,” he said, referring to another gateway of the Old City which leads to West Jerusalem.
The flag rally followed tensions at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound earlier on Sunday, where Israeli police facilitated the entry of 2,600 people celebrating Jerusalem Day.
Some of the Jewish groups unfurled Israeli flags at the site, which is the third holiest site in Islam.
The compound is also holy to Jews, who know it as Temple Mount, and they are allowed to visit but not pray there.
Heavily-armed security forces shoved Palestinian Muslims at the compound as officers kept them apart from the Jewish groups. Far-right Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir was among Sunday’s visitors.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry criticised the Israeli authorities for allowing the “highly incendiary” visits and the “provocative parade” through the Old City.
"The situation on the ground is highly volatile and requires immediate international intervention," the ministry said.
Tor Wennesland, the UN peace envoy in Jerusalem, urged Israeli authorities “to minimise confrontations, frictions and the risk of more violence” ahead of Sunday’s rally.
Palestinian shopkeepers in the Old City said they were told by Israeli police to close their businesses ahead of the flag march.
Abu Kareem, a shopkeeper within view of Damascus Gate, questioned why the rally was being held through his neighbourhood.
"This provokes the feelings of Muslims, the Arabs, the shopkeepers, the residents of the Old City," said the 50-year-old.
"Do you want to start a war just to raise a flag? Because they are coming down through Damascus Gate, the Muslim quarter," he said.
As the annual flag march got underway last May from its starting point in West Jerusalem, rockets were fired at Israel by Gaza militants.
The ensuing 11-day war followed weeks of violence in East Jerusalem, in which medics said more than a thousand Palestinians were wounded along with dozens of police officers.
Hamas, the militant group which rules Gaza, said the flag rally is an “uncalculated, risky enterprise marching to the brink”.