Israeli police attack worshippers at al-Aqsa hours into ceasefire

May 21, 2021

ISRAELI police attacked worshippers at the al-Aqsa mosque today just hours after a ceasefire with Hamas took effect.

Officers fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets into crowds who had gathered for Friday prayers.

Tens of thousands had gathered at the East Jerusalem mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, to celebrate the ceasefire, which came into effect at 2am today.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that police had come under attack by stone-throwing Palestinians and had responded.

The attack was incendiary given that previous police assaults on worshippers at the mosque, together with Israel’s attempt to evict residents of East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrar neighbourhood from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers, had prompted the 11-day conflict, in which Israel pounded Gaza with hundreds of air raids and artillery bombardments, while Gaza’s ruling Hamas launched thousands of rockets into Israel.

At least 232 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children. Twelve Israelis were killed, including two children.

Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz journalist Amira Hass noted that multiple whole Palestinian families were wiped out in Israeli air raids, indicating a deliberate policy, while medics and journalists were also targeted.

But celebrations took place across Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem today following news of the ceasefire.

In Gaza crowds waved Palestinian and Hamas flags, distributed sweets and set off fireworks.

The militant group hailed the ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, as a victory despite the far higher Palestinian death toll, because Israel had not proved able to stop the rocket fire.

US President Joe Biden, whose administration blocked four UN security council resolutions calling for a ceasefire over the last 11 days, described the ceasefire as “a genuine opportunity to make progress.”

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But in Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was attacked from the right. Gideon Sa’ar of Likud breakaway party New Hope said the ceasefire was embarrassing, while Itavar Ben Gvir of the far-right Jewish Power called it “a grave surrender.”

The conflict spread within Israel for the first time in two decades, with ethnic violence erupting in several cities and a Palestinian general strike uniting Palestinians inside Israel, in Gaza and across the West Bank.

The Communist Party-led Hadash coalition said it had met Israeli trade union federation Histadrut to press it to defend workers threatened with the sack for taking part.

Norwegian Refugee Council secretary-general Jan Egeland welcomed the ceasefire, but said people should not mistake “calm for normality.

“There is no normality to speak of for the two million Gazans under siege, nor for those living in the West Bank under Israeli occupation.”

Published at morningstaronline.co.uk