According to police, Palestinians revolted violently and threw stones at nearby buses, causing police to use tear gas and stun grenades against protesters. Police cannons also repeatedly sprayed foul-smelling skunk water in the streets and in the square near the ark in an attempt to disperse the Palestinian protesters.
Palestinian Red Crescent doctors reported treating 17 injured Palestinians since Tuesday afternoon around Damascus Gate. Ten were hospitalized, while the others were treated on site, said the first aid organization.
The clashes were among the worst in the Old City since May, when violence in the tense area helped spark the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.
Previously, the Palestinian media had posted videos on social media which they said showed apparent Israeli police brutality as they dispersed Palestinian gatherings near the Damascus Gate. In videos of the scene, Israeli police could be seen arresting several Palestinians, including children.
In another video, a Palestinian teenager can alternately walk away from the police and fight with officers, as they beat him with batons and subsequently arrest him. An undercover agent also fired live ammunition in the air during an arrest.
Late Tuesday evening, calm seemed to have returned near the Damascus Gate. Buses, cars and pedestrians circulated freely as police idled near the entrance to the Old Town.
Tensions in Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israeli security forces have increased in recent days. The two sides clashed several times near the Damascus Gate, resulting in “dozens of arrests” in recent weeks, according to Israeli police.
According to a spokesperson for the Egged Bus Service, “dozens of buses” have been damaged in recent weeks as a result of Palestinian stone-throwing in the area.
Undercover policeman fires in the air during arrest of suspect near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem pic.twitter.com/YWqp0jZasj
– Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) October 19, 2021
The recent clashes were apparently sparked by Israeli excavations near two cemeteries in Jerusalem – the Yusufiyya Cemetery near Herod’s Gate and the Bab al-Rahma Cemetery on the other side of the Old City, near the Gate of the Lion.
Palestinian activists accused the Israeli authorities of damaging Palestinian graves at the Yusufiyeh site. An Israeli court dismissed the claims because the land in question had been declared “open public land” and was not within established cemetery boundaries. An earlier injunction ordered local Muslim organizations to stop treating the area like a cemetery.
But the clashes also appear to have escalated after nights of repeated violence and arrests near Damascus Gate. As of Tuesday morning, an intensive Israeli presence could already be seen deployed in the area, checking cars and searching Palestinian passers-by.
– Silwanic (@Silwanic1) October 19, 2021
“We see Israel punishing the Palestinians in our holy city, and this leads to daily clashes near the Damascus Gate,” said Nasir al-Qaws, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem and Fatah activist.
Other videos posted on social media showed Jewish passengers on an Israeli bus crossing the area, dodging as stones thrown by Palestinians smashed the windows of the bus. Magen David Adom’s ambulance service said it transported two people on the bus who were injured – including the bus driver – to hospital.
The deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Arieh King, appeared to call for the Palestinian rioters to be shot down. “Now is the time to shoot the chest and hurt the terrorists,” King tweeted in response to the videos.
Documentation: Arabs threw stones at an Egged bus on Sultan Suleiman Street in Jerusalem. Police said 11 suspects were arrested for throwing stones at buses and disrupting the Nablus Gate area.@VeredPelman @ SuleimanMas1 pic.twitter.com/RxVLM0d7Q9
– News here (@kann_news) October 19, 2021
The Damascus Gate has emerged as a flashpoint in the escalation leading to the 11-day conflict in May between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza. In mid-April, Israeli police erected barricades on the stone staircase leading to the arch during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. The policy has sparked violent clashes with Palestinians, for whom sitting on the stairs is a holiday tradition.
Police eventually removed the barricades following public criticism. But the clashes sparked further violence and the Jewish supremacist group Lehava staged a counter-demonstration at the scene in late April. Over the days, the nightly clashes at the Damascus Gate became a regular occurrence.
In early May, religious and nationalist Israelis planned to hold a traditional march through the Damascus Gate on Jerusalem Day to celebrate Israel’s capture of the eastern part of the city in 1967. Security officials warned that the The march could spark tensions with the Palestinians or even start a war, and the government hijacked the parade at the last moment.
Hamas terrorists fired rockets at Israel despite the cancellation, citing recent police raids on the Temple Mount. The top of the hill, the holiest site in Judaism, is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.