Tens of thousands of religious Jews waving Israeli flags marched into mainly Arab east Jerusalem Wednesday as the country celebrated the anniversary of its capture in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Fearing clashes, police closed the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound to visitors and in Jerusalem Day speeches Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to never allow the city to be divided.
The annual celebration recalls the Israeli army’s seizure of the walled Old City in what was then Jordanian-held east Jerusalem.
Israel later annexed the entire eastern sector, in a move which has never been recognised by the international community.
“Forty-seven years ago, Jerusalem was unified, and it will never be divided again,” Netanyahu said at a special cabinet meeting to mark the day, repeating remarks made in parliament.
“This is not only a national holiday, it is a national miracle.”
Israeli police closed off the Al-Aqsa compound after Palestinian youths threw stones at the security forces as a group of Jewish visitors was touring the site, police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP.
Located in the heart of the Old City, the volatile plateau is the third holiest site in Islam but also the most sacred site in Judaism because it was where the two Jewish temples stood.
Due to the sensitivity of the site, Jews are not allowed to pray there.
Samri said the compound would remain “closed to (non-Muslim) visitors because of Jerusalem Day celebrations at the Western Wall,” which lies just below.
Later in the day, Jewish seminary students led a march to the Old City singing and dancing and carrying Israeli flags.
As they approached the Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem, police cleared Palestinians from the area, receiving a volley of stones and firing stun grenades in response, an AFP photographer at the scene said.
Another AFP journalist aid a crowd of revellers attacked two Palestinian men, who were taken to safety by police.
Police said they arrested nine Palestinians for public disorder.
The march is a traditional event that sparks friction with Palestinians in east Jerusalem.
This year, for the first time, peace activists staged an alternative rally in central Jerusalem, carrying placards reading, “Peace, shalom” and bearing biblical passages on coexistence and tolerance.
Jerusalem student Polina Sklyarevsky, 27, was one of the few dozen taking part.
“We dont feel that we belong to the celebrations,” she said. “We want a clear statement that Jerusalem is a city of peace, not of violence.”
Earlier, police arrested a Palestinian near an entrance to the Old City for spraying Jews with tear gas.
Israel considers Jerusalem its “indivisible” capital, while Palestinians insist east Jerusalem will be the capital of their promised future state.
A spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said they would never agree to a peace agreement without Israel ceding east Jerusalem.
“The Palestinian, Arab and international position states that east Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Palestine, there will not be an agreement without this solid truth,” Nabil Abu Rudeina said, quoted by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.