Church leaders appeal for peace amid violent clashes in Jerusalem

(Photo: Unsplash/Sander Crombach)

Church leaders have appealed for a return to peace in Jerusalem after weeks of violent clashes.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been injured in clashes at the al-Aqsa mosque compound after Israeli police used stun grenades and rubber bullets.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said more than 180 Palestinians were injured in clashes on Monday, 80 of whom required hospital treatment.

This follows violent clashes at the compound on Friday and Saturday night, in which over 130 people were injured.

Jerusalem Patriarch, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III, has called on "everyone to respect the sanctity of the holy month, maintain peace and safety for worshipers, and to enable freedom of worship and access to holy sites with respect and dignity, as guaranteed by international laws."

He urged Israelis and Palestinians to respect the "legal and historical status of Jerusalem", and the Hashemite guardianship - the custodianship of the Jordanian royal family - over the city's Islamic and Christian holy sites.

"Jerusalem is holy to three religions, and believers of all these religions must be respected and enjoy freedom to observe their customs and traditions without fear or intimidation," he said.

During the Sunday Regina Coeli address, Pope Francis said: "I pray that the city might be a place of encounter and not of violent clashes, a place of prayer and peace."

He called for "shared solutions" to preserve Jerusalem's multi-religious and multi-cultural identity.

"Violence generates only violence. Enough with the clashes," he added.

There have been weeks of violent confrontations in the city after restrictions were imposed on Muslims gathering to break their daily fast outside the Damascus Gate during Ramadan.

The violence escalated ahead of Jerusalem Day on Monday, when Israel celebrates the capture of East Jerusalem and the walled Old City during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Tensions have also simmered over Israel's threatened eviction of several Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood near Damascus Gate. A court hearing on the settlement that was supposed to be held on Monday has been postponed due to the unrest.

Anita Delhaas, Chief Executive of the International Community of the Holy Sepulchre, blamed the violence on radical groups.

"For too long hateful ideologies that target religious minorities have been allowed to go unchecked, and the result is what have witnessed in Jerusalem recently," she said.

"Frequent attacks on holy sites, threats and intimidation of worshipers, and mob behaviour in the city's streets reflect alarming intolerance towards other religious communities.

"Those in positions of authority must take action to address this urgently and challenge the radical ideologies that seek to drive ancient communities out of the Holy Land."

World Council of Churches (WCC) acting general secretary, Dr Ioan Sauca, called on Israel to respect the status quo of holy sites in the Old City "in the interest of peace and stability".

"We also call for all to refrain from further violence, and from provocative and destabilizing actions," he said.

The UK Government, which has been asked to intervene in the dispute over Sheikh Jarrah, has appealed for calm. 

"The UK appeals for calm, and calls for an end to the violence witnessed in Jerusalem over recent days. All sides need to de-escalate tensions in the final days of Ramadan," said Middle East minister James Cleverly.