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RAMALLAH: Palestinians have strongly condemned the Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid’s provocative visit to Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. Violent clashes erupted after Lapid visited the area on Sunday evening, leading to the injury of 19 youths and the arrest of 11 Palestinians by Israeli police. Violent clashes occurred at the same place during last year’s Ramadan season, which coincided with evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, with the combined tensions leading to 11 days of conflict between Hamas and Israel. Following his visit to East Jerusalem, Lapid tweeted in Hebrew: “I participated today in assessing the situation in Jerusalem with the Commissioner, Yaakov Shabtai, and then I patrolled the Nablus Gate. This is a tense period, but we have a police force that can be trusted.” Lapid added: “We give the security forces full backing; they work professionally. Impossible; we are committed to them and will give them all the necessary resources. “When we are all with our families on Seder night, about 8,000 police officers will be outside guarding the lives of Israeli citizens; I am proud of our police officers, of the Border Police, of the IDF, of everyone who guards us in these tense days — take care of yourselves.” The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates condemned Lapid’s storming of Bab Damascus Gate, describing his words as an embodiment of the apartheid regime. The ministry also derided promises made by Lapid to domestic extremists to deploy more forces and police in Jerusalem under the pretext of protecting them during the Jewish holidays. It said that Lapid’s promises are an incitement against the Palestinians and described Lapid’s actions as an “embodiment of the worst forms of the Israeli apartheid regime that the occupation imposes on the Palestinian citizen by force within the framework of its expansionist colonial system.” This system restricts and confiscates the freedom of the Palestinian person, as if there are only Jewish holidays that need protection, in complete disregard for the existence of Muslim and Christian holidays, the ministy added. It said that the Israeli apartheid regime is embodied by Lapid’s actions in Jerusalem, adding that he completely ignores the fact that it is occupied land, and storms it as an occupier to make sure that his security measures have been completed to suppress the Palestinian citizens. The dozens of police and security forces that Lapid is trying to protect are only conclusive proof that he is an occupier and is afraid to walk on occupied land, the ministry said. Lapid’s visit also inspired a reaction from Israeli far-right politician MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, who tweeted: “Do you remember Lapid, who shouted that I was igniting the Middle East? I set up a bureau in Shimon the Tzaddik (Sheikh Jarrah); there is peace there; I went up to the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa Mosque) and passed in peace.  “He ‘toured’ the Damascus Gate riots all night. The matter is simple: He who shows the determination and courage of the rioters respects him. Those who show weakness — get into it.” Ben-Gvir added: “I spoke at the (parliament) Foreign Affairs and Security Committee and said that whoever attacked the police at Damascus Gate should have been shot.” Meanwhile, with the start of Ramadan, Israeli police turned East Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque into military barracks. They tightened its procedures and restrictions on Palestinian worshipers, coinciding with the approaching Jewish holidays. Israeli political analyst Yoni Ben-Menahem told Arab News: “I do not think that the clashes between Palestinian youths in Bab Al-Amud Square and the Israeli police are linked to Lapid’s visit to the area, which turned a year ago into an arena of daily clashes between the youth of Jerusalem and the police, where the youths provoke their personnel.” Ben-Menahem continued: “It was assumed that the Minister of Internal Security and Police Omer Bar-Lev would take that tour yesterday, not Lapid, who went there looking for headlines in the Israeli press.” Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, former president of Al-Quds University, told Arab News that things will not get out of control, despite the bubbling tensions. He stressed that the presence of the occupation creates causes for anxiety. Still, it will not be an extraordinary and usual tension this time. Prof. Nusseibeh added that increased security will help to secure the prosperity of the economic situation for the merchants of the old city, who have been waiting for Ramadan to improve their trade. “There is a consensus among the Old City of Jerusalem merchants on the necessity of maintaining calm and discipline during Ramadan.” Hamas spokesperson in Jerusalem Mohammed Hamada said in a statement that: “The raid by the Israeli occupation Foreign Minister Yair Lapid into the Bab Al-Amud (Damascus Gate) area, which was followed by Israeli occupation forces opening fire toward the Palestinian people in occupied Jerusalem, is strongly evident that the Israeli occupation is insisting on implementing its malicious schemes targeting Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Hamada said the visit was “a grave escalation and a provocation to the feelings of Palestinians and Muslims in the holy month of Ramadan.” He added: “We hold the Israeli occupation leaders fully responsible for the repercussions of this move. We, alongside the Palestinian people, are committed to protecting Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque with all means possible.” The Palestinian Authority’s Minister of the Islamic Awqaf and Religious Affairs Hatem Al-Bakri said that Israel desecrated Al-Aqsa Mosque through 20 invasions throughout March. He said that Israeli authorities allowed the entry of more than 4,200 Jews, including officers, soldiers and students of biblical institutes, who intended to perform Talmudic prayers in the mosque while a Jewish cleric performed. The staff of the temple servants, in their priestly attire, performed Talmudic rituals in front of the Dome of the Rock, while some of them chanted the “Israeli national anthem” in the mosque, as part of their attempts to confirm that the mosque is under Israeli sovereignty. Ben-Gvir was among the participants in the raids on March 31, which the Palestinians described as a provocation. Despite the waves of small acts of violence and tension rippling across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both sides are resisting a new cycle of mass violence.

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