New players pose additional threats to Jerusalem tensions

JERUSALEM (AP) — The holy city of Jerusalem, a tinderbox of competing religious and political claims, has repeatedly triggered bouts of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

This time around, there have been some additional sparks, including Jewish extremists who, emboldened by their political patrons’ recent election to parliament, staged a provocative march to Jerusalem’s walled Old City chanting “death to the Arabs.”

Over the course of a few days, nightly Jerusalem street brawls between Israeli police and disaffected Palestinian residents of the city escalated to cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Islamic militant Hamas. Gaza militants fired an intense barrage of rockets into southern Israel and Israel launched several airstrikes at Gaza.

Political posturing by Israeli and Palestinian leaders has added to the tense atmosphere.

Here is a closer look at what’s been driving the violence:

HEART OF THE CONFLICT:

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians claim all three areas for a future independent state, with east Jerusalem as their capital.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem, home to the city’s most sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, after the war and views the entire city as its unified capital.

The fate of Jerusalem and its holy sites is one of the most explosive issues in the conflict, and the city has seen many waves of violence over the years.

WHY NOW?

The immediate spark for the current round of unrest was Israel’s decision to barricade a plaza outside of Jerusalem’s Old City during the holy month of Ramadan.

That decision appeared to have been reversed late Sunday, when the barricades were suddenly removed, setting off joyous celebrations outside Damascus Gate.

Palestinians traditionally gather at the spot each evening after prayers and a daylong fast.

Angry that their popular gathering spot was taken away, hundreds of young Palestinian men have taken to the streets each evening. Crowds have hurled stones, firebombs and other objects at police, while officers have used stun grenades and water cannons to disperse them. Dozens of people have been hurt.

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