Police are maintaining heightened security amid Hamas’s call for a “Day of Rage” against Israel on Friday during which the terrorist organization implored Palestinians to take to the streets “in solidarity with the Aksa Mosque and Jerusalem intifada.”
Accusing Israel of “desecrating” the Aksa Mosque, Hamas told Palestinians to march toward checkpoints in the West Bank and clash with soldiers.
Scores of Palestinians demonstrated and clashed with police in the east Jerusalem neighborhoods of Abu Dis and Jebl Mukabar Thursday night.
Meanwhile, the police reported that a massive shipment of fireworks, knives and tasers, believed to be meant in part for use by rioters, was seized last week by Jerusalem District detectives and officers from the Tax Authority and the Ashdod Port Customs.
As of Thursday evening, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police were assessing the security threat and deliberating over whether to impose age restrictions for Friday prayers on the Temple Mount.
Rosenfeld said multiple units will continue to closely monitor public areas across Jerusalem, with a special emphasis on the central bus station, bus and light-rail stops and shops and restaurants.
Yehya Mousa, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said the protests were meant to send a message to all Palestinians, especially those in the West Bank, that they should do their utmost to defend the Aksa Mosque.
“Our holy sites are being desecrated and our Aksa Mosque is being destroyed and taken over,” Mousa said. “Every Palestinian is required to take the initiative and move to defend our identity and existence.”
The only way to confront “Israeli crimes,” he said, was through an all-out intifada “until the Aksa Mosque is liberated and the occupation leaves our lands.”
In response, PA officials in Ramallah expressed fear that Hamas’s actions would instigate unrest not only against Israel, but Palestinian Authority leadership, as well.
A senior official said its security forces would not allow Hamas to incite Palestinians to engage in violence that could plunge the whole region into anarchy and lawlessness.
The Fatah Central Committee appealed to the US administration to intervene to prevent further deterioration. The committee held the Israeli government, the IDF and settlers responsible for the current tensions.
The appeal came during a meeting in Ramallah under the chairmanship of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the committee, said the situation was extremely dangerous and urged all Palestinian groups not to give Israel an excuse to “pursue its violations and crimes.”
He accused the Israeli government of “encouraging and sponsoring settler assaults on Palestinians and their holy sites.”
Abbas on Thursday sent urgent letters to members of the Mideast Quartet – UN, US, Russia and the EU – urging them to intervene immediately to “halt Israeli assaults” on Palestinians, citing “assaults” on the Aksa Mosque, house demolitions, assassinations, incursions, arrests and land confiscations.
Abbas said the “State of Palestine was making a big effort to achieve calm” but cautioned that “the continuation of Israeli assaults will lead to the escalation of the cycle of violence, chaos, extremism and bloodletting.”
Earlier Thursday, police said about 100 Palestinian youths from Jebl Mukaber entered Armon Hanatziv, a nearby Jewish neighborhood, and proceeded to block a main street.
According to Rosenfeld, the mob attacked responding officers with rocks before being dispersed with non-lethal stun grenades. No arrests or injuries were reported, although a police car was damaged during the confrontation, he said.
In response to ongoing tensions, which peaked Tuesday morning during the Har Nof massacre
when two Palestinian terrorists murdered four rabbis and a police officer and wounded seven others, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced a volunteer civil guard to assist police.
In a statement released Thursday night, Barkat said the measure will add 80 volunteer patrol cars to monitor flashpoint neighborhoods and 50 additional rapid response, urban-mobility police units.
He said 215 security guards will be added to all preschools and kindergartens, and hundreds of new CCTV cameras will be installed at schools throughout the city.
“The return of security to the inhabitants of the city is our most important mission,” said Barkat. “Backed by the prime minister and Israel Police, this will be one of the most comprehensive programs to secure the city’s students and residents...We will restore the quiet routine of Jerusalem to the residents.”
Police said the weapons seizure came after the detectives ran an undercover investigation, together with the tax and customs officials, during which they tracked and seized two shipping containers coming into Ashdod from China.
The fireworks were hidden among Christmas decorations inside the containers, which were intended for Arab residents of the largely Christian east Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina.
Last Tuesday, three of the suspects arrived at the port and claimed the containers, then drove with them on trailers to a storehouse in Afula where they planned to unload the merchandise.
They were arrested at the spot before unloading the containers, as was the owner of the storehouse.
Inside the containers, police said they found 18,000 20mm. fireworks, as well as 5,200 commando knives, 4,300 flashlights that can be modified into improvised tasers, 5,500 tasers and 1,000 swords.
Fireworks have become a highly popular tool of Arab rioters. The firecrackers, including large Roman candles, are pointed horizontally and fired like ammunition.
Some of the larger gauge fireworks can penetrate police protective gear at close range, including their plastic shields.
All can cause severe burns and, if some of the larger ones hit on the right spot, such as the neck, they can be fatal.
On Tuesday, the Knesset Economics Committee voted to ban the import of fireworks through February 15, noting the explosives had been used as weapons in clashes.
“Fireworks have become a significant danger to the security forces and we must eliminate their use as a weapon,” said committee vice chairman MK Karin Elharar.
The expiration date on the limitation was put in place to ensure the ban did not excessively hurt importers, but Yaron Mor, who chairs the forum of firework importers, noted that the ban might not be effective in and of itself.
In testimony before the committee, he said there were smuggled containers of fireworks in the country that could still fall into the wrong hands.