Thousands pack Al-Aqsa Mosque, protest Palestinian evictions in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Palestinian worshippers packed into Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque on the final Friday of Ramadan and many stayed on to protest in support of Palestinians facing eviction from homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers.
With health restrictions mostly lifted following Israel's swift COVID-19 vaccine campaign, worshippers packed tightly together as they knelt in prayer on the tree-lined hilltop plateau containing the mosque, Islam's third-holiest site.
But ongoing tensions in the city at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were front and centre in the Friday sermon given by Sheikh Tayseer Abu Sunainah.
"Our people will remain steadfast and patient in their homes, in our blessed land," Abu Sunainah said of the multiple Palestinian families in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah who could be evicted under a long-running legal case.
Following prayers, thousands remained on the compound to protest against the evictions, with many waving Palestinian flags and chanting a refrain common during Jerusalem protests: "With our soul and blood, we will redeem you, Aqsa".
Israel's Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions on Monday.
Sheikh Jarrah's residents are overwhelmingly Palestinian, but the neighbourhood also contains a site revered by religious Jews as the tomb of an ancient high priest, Simon the Just.
The spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the evictions, "if ordered and implemented, would violate Israel's obligations under international law" on East Jerusalem territory it captured and occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
"We call on Israel to immediately halt all forced evictions, including those in Sheikh Jarrah, and to cease any activity that would further contribute to a coercive environment and lead to a risk of forcible transfer," spokesman Rupert Colville said on Friday.
Israel's foreign ministry said on Friday Palestinians were "presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties as a nationalist cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem." Palestinians rejected the allegation.
Israeli-Palestinian clashes have broken out nightly in Sheikh Jarrah ahead of Monday's court hearing.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; editing by Philippa Fletcher)