Arab League chief blames Israel for Jerusalem and Gaza violence

Israeli air strikes and militant rocket attacks continued on Tuesday

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Arab League foreign ministers on Tuesday blamed Israel for the violence in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip and declared their support and respect for Palestinian residents of the holy city.

They said the Palestinians were defending Al Aqsa Mosque with their “bare chests” against Israel’s brutal and methodical attacks.

The declaration came at the end of a meeting they held online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It began as Israeli warplanes continued to pound the Gaza Strip, where at least 26 Palestinians, including nine children, were killed, and 122 wounded.

The meeting concluded with a joint resolution tabled by Palestine, which said Israel’s actions were blatant breaches of UN resolutions and international law.

They called on the UN and relevant international organisations, including the Security Council, to shoulder their “moral, legal and human” responsibility to stop Israel’s “aggression".

The ministers said they were setting up a committee of representatives from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Qatar, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and the league’s Secretary General, Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

The committee will contact permanent Security Council members to persuade them to take “practical” steps to stop Israel’s illegitimate policies and action in Jerusalem.

The meeting's resolution said Arab states would urge the International Criminal Court to go ahead with its investigation of Israel’s “war crimes and crimes against humanity” against the Palestinians.

“These aggressions and crimes are a blatant provocation of the faithful everywhere and threaten to ignite a cycle of violence that threatens security and stability in the region and the rest of the world,” the resolution said.

The Israeli air strikes were in retaliation for rocket barrages fired by Gaza militants into Israel for a second day on Tuesday.

The attacks were sparked by clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security troops at Jerusalem’s Al Asqa Mosque on Monday.

Jerusalem has been tense for days over the possible eviction of Palestinian families from homes claimed by Jewish settlers in the city’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. But Israel, which captured the Arab part of the city in the 1967 war, has annexed it, declaring the entire city its undivided and eternal capital.

The annexation has not been recognised by most of the international community.

"We are meeting today not only to condemn what is going on in occupied Jerusalem and occupied Palestinian territories in general, but to send a a clear message to the world that the current situation in Palestine is not sustainable,” Mr Aboul Gheit said in opening remarks.

"What we have witnessed, in all honesty, are deliberate provocations by the Israeli occupation forces that touched the holiest of holy Muslim sites during the holiest month to Muslims.

"These violations and provocations are not taking place in a vacuum.

"We are faced with a government that has totally surrendered to the agenda of hardline settlers and the most extremist in Israel's religious parties."

Mr Aboul Gheit’s scathing criticism of Israel was matched by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who also blamed Israel for the violence.

Mr Shoukry said the Arab residents of East Jerusalem were fighting to protect their identity and their very existence.

“In the face of these violations and this tense situation, Egypt declares its total rejection and condemnation of these oppressive Israeli practices and considers them a breach of international law,” he said.

“They undermine the chances of reaching a two-state solution and constitute a grave threat to the pillars of security and stability in the region.”

Israel and Palestine continued to exchange fire on Tuesday, with a rocket fired into the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon killing two Israelis in the afternoon, a spokesman for the Magen David Ambulance told The National.

The Israeli military said 15 of the dead in Gaza were militants, and the Islamic Jihad group in the strip confirmed two senior figures were killed.

"They are irresponsible and random attacks motivated by the desire to exact revenge, inspired by domestic political calculations and are a pathetic display of force at the expense of children's blood," Mr Aboul Gheit said.

"The international community must immediately work to stop this Israeli aggression in Jerusalem, Gaza and all occupied Palestinian territories."

One of the Israeli air strikes on Gaza on Tuesday hit the home of a Hamas field commander and two border tunnels dug by militants.

Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza fired hundreds of rockets towards Israel, where the Iron Dome air defence systems intercepted several as sirens sounded over towns and cities.

Since Monday evening, Gaza militants have fired more than 300 rockets towards Israel, injuring dozens of civilians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Gaza militants on Monday crossed a “red line” by firing rockets at the Jerusalem area, and that the current violence could last for “some time”.

The EU condemned the attacks, calling on all sides to pull back and prevent further civilian casualties.

"The firing of rockets from Gaza against civilian populations in Israel is totally unacceptable and feeds escalatory dynamics," the European Commission said late on Monday.

"The significant upsurge in violence in the occupied West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, as well as in and around Gaza needs to stop immediately."

For four successive days, Israeli police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at Palestinians in Al Aqsa compound, who hurled stones and chairs.

At times, police fired stun grenades into the mosque.

Police stormed the mosque on Monday, before the controversial Israeli nationalist march on Jerusalem Day to commemorate their military’s capture of the eastern part of the city in 1967.

Jewish worshippers celebrate Jerusalem Day as fire erupts near Western Wall

Jewish worshippers celebrate Jerusalem Day as fire erupts near Western Wall

On Monday night, thousands of Jewish Israeli demonstrators gathered near the Western Wall – Judaism’s holiest prayer site at the base of Al Aqsa compound – waving Israeli flags and chanting nationalist slogans.

Ayman Odeh, an Israeli Arab member of the Knesset, shared a video on Twitter showing the crowds chanting religious verses that have become popular among Israeli far-right groups as anti-Palestinian songs.

Mr Netanyahu has defended the security services after international criticism of their handling of tension in Jerusalem.

Critics say heavy-handed police measures, including a decision to temporarily seal the popular night-time gathering spot at Damascus Gate where Palestinian residents meet after evening prayers, helped to stoke nightly unrest.

Another flashpoint was the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah where dozens of Palestinians are under threat of eviction by Jewish settlers.

Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City is the third-holiest site in Islam.