Dozens of Palestinians detained in East Jerusalem

Israeli forces detained 10 Palestinians, including a journalist, in overnight raids July 2 in occupied East Jerusalem, amid increasing tension on the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City. Head of the Jerusalem Committee for Families of Prisoners, Amjad Abu Asab, told Ma'an News Agency that Israeli police detained 10 Palestinians, nine of whom were from the Old City. Two Old City residents were identified as former prisoners Ahmad Ghazala and Laith Shalabi. Israeli forces also detained journalist Amjad Arafah after raiding his house in Ras al-Amoud southeast of the Old City. Arafah was called for interrogation and released, only to be detained again on July 3. Israeli spokesperson Luba al-Samri confirmed in a statement that morning that nine Palestinians had been detained overnight in Jerusalem in connection with "disturbing order" and throwing stones in the al-Aqsa Mosque compound as well as in the Silwan neighborhood south of the Old City. She added that some of the Palestinians had been detained for suspected involvement in an assault of an Israeli police officer Saturday night at Damascus Gate, an entrance to the Old City, where the al-Aqsa compound is located.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers had been present in al-Aqsa and around the Old City on the night of July 3 for Leilat al-Qadr, on one of the last days of the holy month of Ramadan. Al-Samri said at the time that there had been no injuries during the limited clashes that broke out around midnight when "Muslim" youths—likely referring to local Palestinian youth—threw rocks at Israeli police forces outside of Damascus Gate.

Her statement said that since "disorder" began last week at al-Aqsa and the old city, 58 suspects had been detained, and were still being investigated as police continued to search the area for remaining suspects.

Reports emerged on June 30 that Israeli police formed a new unit to carry out detentions across Jerusalem. However, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld denied any such unit had been established, while notingd there had been an increase in detentions over recent weeks in connection to unrest at al-Aqsa.

Tensions increased on the compound amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as right-wing Israelis toured the site under armed guard. Because of the sensitive nature of al-Aqsa compound, Israel maintains a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls it to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. However, Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to the site, leading to tensions with Palestinian worshipers.

For years, non-Muslims and tourists have been completely banned from the compound during the final ten holiest days of Ramadan. However, right-wing Israelis toured the site for two consecutive days last week, sparking clashes with Palestinian youth that were violently suppressed by Israeli police.

Israeli authorities responded by officially closing al-Aqsa to non-Muslim visitors for the remaining days of Ramadan. However, reports of Palestinian youth throwing stones at Israeli military targets—and in one instance at Jewish worshipers at the neighboring Western Wall—have continued.

From Ma'an News Agency, July 3

  1. UN, EU slam Israel’s approval of major settlement expansion

    The Israeli government approved construction of 42 new housing units in the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba near Hebron, after a Palestinian boy stabbed an Israeli girl to death in her bedroom in the settlement June 30. The announcement was met with protest by the UN and EU. The spokesperson for the European Union reacted to Israel’s recent announcement, saying the decision “threatens the viability of the two-state solution and calls into question Israel's commitment to a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians.” (Ma’an, July 6)

  2. US slam Israel’s approval of major settlement expansion

    The United States slammed Israeli plans to build hundreds of new settlement homes in annexed East Jerusalem. "We are deeply concerned by reports today that the government of Israel has published tenders for 323 units in east Jerusalem settlements," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement, noting that this follows an announcement of plans earlier this week for 770 units in the settlement of Gilo.

    "These steps by Israeli authorities are the latest examples of what appears to be a steady acceleration of settlement activity that is systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution," Kirby said. "We remain troubled that Israel continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action, which raises serious questions about Israel's ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians."

  3. Israel and US to close deal on biggest military aid package ever

    Well, right on the heel of Washington's rote condemnation of the settlement expansion plan, Brig. Gen. Yaakov Nagel, acting head of Israel's National Security Council, arrives to meet with White House officials for a final round of negotiations involving the largest military aid package the United States has ever given any country—and which will last more than a decade after President Obama leaves office. 

    The Obama administration says it is prepared to sign a 10-year "memorandum of understanding" that significantly raises the $3.1 billion a year the US currently grants Israel under an existing agreement that expires in 2018. Netanyahu is said to be holding out for as much at $5 billion a year. In addition, Congress has provided additional money for an expanded missile defense program. (WaPo, July 29)

  4. US criticizes Israel over West Bank settlement plan

    The White House castigated the Israeli government for approving plans to build a new settlement on the West Bank, three weeks after it signed a huge military aid package with the US and just as Obama was traveling to Jerusalem for the funeral of Shimon Peres. In an uncommonly harsh statement, the State Department "strongly condemned" the move, asserting that it violated Israel's pledge not to construct new settlements.

    The new settlement is designed to house settlers from a nearby "illegal" outpost, Amona, which Israel's high court has ordered demolished by year's end, found to be on private Palestinian land. Israeli authorities view the new settlement as a "satellite" of another settlement, Shvut Rachel, which itself was retroactively "legalized" and lies within the redrawn boundaries of an established settlement, Shilo.

    "The 98 housing units approved in Shilo do not constitute a 'new settlement,’'" Israel's ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement. "Israel remains committed to a solution of two states for two peoples, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state of Israel." (NYT, Oct. 5)