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Conflict Between Israelis and Palestinians Continue In Jerusalem

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Jerusalem has not been this tense in years. All throughout the month of Ramadan, there's been street violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Police have thrown stun grenades at Palestinian crowds as they were breaking their Ramadan fast.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)

SIMON: And last night, there was chaos in Jerusalem's historic walled Old City at its most revered Muslim holy site. NPR's Daniel Estrin is in the Old City of Jerusalem. Daniel, thanks for being with us.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And what happened overnight?

ESTRIN: Well, so just picture the scene. It's the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. You got the iconic Golden Dome of the Rock, a big outdoor plaza. It's Islam's third holiest site and also the holiest spot in Jewish tradition - the last Friday of Ramadan, lots of worshippers breaking their fast in the big, open mosque plaza. And then the violence began. And it's hard to say what exactly set it off, but in videos, you see Israeli police firing stun grenades, what people hear called sound bombs, firing rubber-coated bullets. Palestinians are throwing stones and other objects. Police fired even into one of the mosque buildings onto the carpeted floor, as you see the smoke in videos and older men, very young kids inside - similar violence throughout the Old City. Police shut the gates to the city. And it was just pandemonium. Palestinian medics say more than 200 Palestinians were wounded last night. Scores needed hospital treatment.

I'm sitting in the Old City now on a cobblestone step. It's very peaceful now. But I just met a young woman who gave her first name as Ahlem (ph). She said her brother was praying and got shot in the leg with a rubber-coated bullet. And here's what she described, what she saw last night.

AHLEM: They started to bomb rubber bullets and sound bombs like everywhere in the mosques inside and at the - under the trees, they were like, go away, go home. And it was, like, really scary. I saw that before in 2014. But yesterday was unbelievable.

SIMON: Daniel, why is this happening now? Ramadan, the Israeli elections?

ESTRIN: I think all of the above, Scott. All surrounding Ramadan, there have been a lot of Palestinians in the streets. The city is emerging from the pandemic. And there have been almost nightly clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians. Police saying they were attempting crowd control, but Palestinians say they see this just as an affront to their very existence in the city. I almost drove through a street clash, one of many, two nights ago. Young religious Jewish men throwing stones at Palestinians - I mean, it's just happening all over the city.

And there have just been a series of events - a far-right Israeli march through the city shouting death to Arabs. There have been protests in a neighborhood where Jewish settler groups are claiming ownership rights, Palestinian families slated for possible eviction - on the backdrop of a feeling of a leadership vacuum. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a government. His rivals are now trying. That could unseat him, and some pundits are even saying Netanyahu, who's considered Mr. Security, benefits from a rise in tensions, may be somehow luring right-wing politicians to rally around him and to keep him in office.

SIMON: Is there worry things could get worse?

ESTRIN: There are fears this could escalate. Tonight there will be large numbers of Palestinians expected for the holiest night in the Muslim calendar. Two days later, Israeli ultranationalists marching through the city on an annual day celebrating Israeli capture of Palestinian areas. The State Department in the U.S., which had put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict low on its priority list in this administration, is saying they are extremely concerned.

SIMON: NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem's Old City, thanks so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.