JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Violent protests in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem have been raging nightly beyond the spotlight on the Gaza war, leading to a crackdown by Israeli police in which hundreds of Palestinians have been detained.
Street clashes with police in riot gear, military-style raids on homes late at night and stone-throwing at Israeli vehicles have marked the most serious outbreak of violence in Jerusalem since a Palestinian uprising a decade ago.
The protests erupted in July after the murder of a Palestinian teen in an alleged revenge attack by three Jews, who are standing trial. That followed the killing of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank by Hamas Islamist militants.
The seething tensions have underscored deepening divisions in a city that Israel claims as its “indivisible capital”.
Damage caused by Palestinians to a Jerusalem light railway, which links Arab and Jewish neighborhoods and was once hailed by Israeli authorities as a symbol of coexistence, put a third of its carriages out of commission.
Security sweeps across East Jerusalem have arrested more than 600 Palestinians, including 150 minors, according to the Israeli police. Most have since been released on bail or put under some form of restriction.
Lawyers and family members say the raids resemble the military tactics of Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, including doors being blown off hinges, rather than urban law enforcement.
“The police’s treatment is setting alight areas that were quiet before,” said Dmitri Daliani, a Palestinian rights activist in East Jerusalem. “They think more aggression and psychological pressure will quash an uprising, but it’s only making the people more angry.”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that after “widescale disturbances in different neighborhoods”, all the suspects arrested were directly involved in clashes with police, including throwing stones which wounded officers.
Israel captured East Jerusalem along with Gaza and the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War. It annexed the city shortly afterwards and passed a law in 1980 that declared all of Jerusalem its capital, a move not recognized abroad.
Some 40 percent of Jerusalem’s 800,000 residents are Palestinians. They have Israeli-issued identity cards that entitle them - as residents of a city that Israel regards as part of the Jewish state - to the same civil rights and state-funded services afforded Israeli citizens.
But many see Israeli settlement construction in annexed areas of Jerusalem and restrictions on access to al Aqsa mosque in the historic Old City, which Israel says stem from security concerns, as attempts to change the nature of the place.
“There seems to be no will by the mayor and city council to address the root causes of Palestinian discontent in the city - poverty, home demolitions, settlements, land confiscations,” said Meir Margalit, an Israeli former city council member.
Earlier this year, a Jewish seminary quietly opened its doors in the Arab commercial heart of east Jerusalem and on Thursday, the Jerusalem municipality approved plans to build a nine-storey seminary in another Arab neighborhood, the anti-settlement Peace Now watchdog said.
“Can you imagine the response if a Madrasa would be built in West Jerusalem,” tweeted Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer and an expert on settlement expansion, who accused the authorities of “fanning the flames” in the city.
After Mohammed Abu Khudair, 16, was burned alive on July 2 by suspected Jewish radicals, Palestinians clashed for days with police in his East Jerusalem neighborhood.
Tariq Khdeir, a relative and a U.S. citizen, was severely beaten and arrested in the protests, drawing censure from the United States. Another U.S. citizen, Mohammed Abu Nih, 15, has been in jail for the past two months, accused of taking part in protests and carrying a knife — something his family denies.
Khalil, his brother, told Reuters that police beat Mohammed and interrogated him without his family or lawyer present, in violation of an Israeli law on the rights of detained minors.
Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, denied any knowledge of abuse and said the police presence in East Jerusalem and their use of masks was aimed at protecting officers in danger.
Much of the anti-Israeli violence in recent years in Jerusalem has flared at the sacred compound in the walled Old City where al-Aqsa mosque is located and which Jews revere as the site of two destroyed Biblical Temples.
Muath Idriss, 30, was arrested this month during clashes with riot police at the holy plaza, which Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews refer to as the Temple Mount.
Jailed for a week, under house arrest for another seven days and barred from visiting the site for a month, he said: “The situation is terrible in the city, worse than it’s ever been.”
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Crispian Balmer