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30 injured in clashes as Israeli forces raid Shufat refugee camp

Nov. 7, 2014 5:31 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 8, 2014 10:35 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- At least 30 Palestinians were injured on Friday after Israeli forces raided Shufat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, sparking pitched battles between police armed with guns and protestors with rocks on the street's of Jerusalem's most impoverished slum.

A spokesman for the Fatah movement in the camp, Thaer Fasfous, told Ma'an that one man was shot in the head with a live bullet while more than 30 others were hit by rubber-coated steel bullets fired by Israeli soldiers, including four who had been struck in the head.

Israeli forces' widespread use of tear gas, canisters of which were fired at high velocity toward protesters, also left many struggling to breathe in the rally as well as in the apartments above.

The clashes began after Israeli forces attempted to disperse a large protest that began at the home of Ibrahim al-Akkari, who was killed by police on Wednesday after he plowed his car into a crowd of Israelis, killing two in what authorities described as a "terror attack."

Locals in the camp -- many of whom dispute the charge of terror and instead question why Israeli police did not arrest al-Akkari instead of shooting him dead -- held a symbolic funeral for man beginning at his home in the camp, replete with a coffin carrying his picture.

The clashes in Shufat came amid protests and clashes across Jerusalem on Friday, which took place amid rising tensions over renewed Israeli limits on Palestinian Muslim access to the holy Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third-holiest site.

Thousands of Palestinian youths performed Friday prayers in the streets of Jerusalem after Israeli forces imposed restrictions on entrance to al-Aqsa compound, preventing any men below the age of 35 from entering.

Prayers were carried out in Ras al-Amoud, Wadi al-Joz, on Salah al-Din street, and at al-Musrara under the watch of at least 1,300 heavily-armed police, who monitored and photographed the crowds.

In Wadi al-Joz people marched in solidarity with al-Aqsa mosque and the people killed n Jerusalem, while at the Al-Aqsa mosque itself women who were allowed in held a large protest and chanted in defense of the mosque.

Witnesses said two Palestinian teenagers were detained in the morning from al-Wad street in the Old City.

The clashes come amid increasing tension in Jerusalem over an expected Knesset vote to potentially divide the al-Aqsa mosque compound -- the third-holiest site in Islam -- between Muslims and Jews, or else restrict Muslim worship at the site.

Although mainstream Jewish leaders consider it forbidden for Jews to enter the area, right-wing nationalist activists have increasingly called for Jewish prayer to be allowed on the site.

Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, an agreement with Jordan has maintained that Jewish prayer be allowed at the Western Wall plaza -- built on the site of a Palestinian neighborhood of 800 that was destroyed immediately following the conquest -- but not inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound itself.

Risk of further violence

Amid the violence, Israeli leadership reached out to Jordanian and European leaders in order to repair increasingly strained relations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone with Jordan's King Abdullah II to reassure him there would be no change to the decades-old status quo at the shrine which is one of the most sensitive flashpoints in the Middle East.

Jordan had recalled its ambassador to Israel in protest after Wednesday's clashes in which police faced off with Palestinian stone-throwers bent on preventing a visit by Jewish extremists.

Jordan's status as custodian of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and other Muslim holy sites in annexed east Jerusalem is enshrined in the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries.

Concerns that Israel was set to legislate changes to the status quo have sparked weeks of unrest at the site.

The European Union's new foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini also warned of a new wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence if there is no progress towards peace talks.

Speaking in Jerusalem on her first visit to the region since taking up the EU's top diplomatic post, Mogherini said there was a real "urgency" to pick up and advance the moribund peace process.

"The risk is that if we do not move forward on the political track, we will go back ... again to violence," she told reporters.

"That's why I see the urgency in moving forward."

But she also flagged up Israel's settlement building on lands the Palestinians want for a future state as an "obstacle" to a negotiated peace.

"New settlements are an obstacle, as we see, but we also see that there might be a political will... to resume the talks and specially (to) make sure that these talks bring to results," she said.

After a later meeting with Netanyahu, the two looked grim as they stood side-by-side at a news conference.

"I reject the fictitious claim that the root of the continuous conflict is this or that settlement," Netanyahu said and referred specifically to international criticism of settlement building in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

"Jerusalem is our capital and as such is not a settlement," he insisted.

The international community, however, disputes this, and all Israeli construction or expansion on territory located on land captured in 1967 -- including all of East Jerusalem and its Old City -- is considered to be a settlement and illegal under international law.

Although Palestinians in East Jerusalem live within territory Israel has unilaterally annexed, they lack citizenship rights and are instead classified only as "residents" whose permits can be revoked if they move away from the city for more than a few years.

They face discrimination in all aspects of life including housing, employment, and services, and are unable to access services in the West Bank due to the construction of Israel's separation wall.

Anger has also been fueled by widespread discontent at the Israeli offensive on Gaza that killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians dead and injured more than 11,000.

East Jerusalem is internationally recognized as Palestinian territory, but Israel occupied it in 1967 and later annexed it in a move never considered legitimate abroad.

AFP contributed to this report.
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