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U.S. and Arab countries aim to prevent Israeli-Palestinians tensions from escalating

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Jewish Passover began last night, and we are in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The overlap on the calendar matches the overlap on the ground in the old city of Jerusalem. Jewish and Muslim holy sites are built atop one another, and this week they are the scene of violence. Israeli police raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Palestinians shot fireworks at police.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us from Tel Aviv. Hey there, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's been happening in that crowded space in the old City?

ESTRIN: Well, we've seen disturbing images come out of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. This is cellphone footage where you see Israeli police using batons, and they've repeatedly beat Palestinians who are on the floor of the mosque. This is what it sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)

ESTRIN: So you have a woman there shouting, oh, God, oh, God. And meanwhile, Palestinians were shooting fireworks at police inside the mosque. The U.S. Embassy, top U.N. officials spoke out, said they were shocked and appalled. And then Hamas and Gaza launched rockets toward Israel, and Israel retaliated with airstrikes on Gaza. None of that caused injuries. But all of that was two nights ago. And then last night, the Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque again. They appeared to be more restrained last night, but Palestinians still aimed fireworks at them. You saw these images of red and green sparks and smoke inside the mosque. And violence spread. There was an Israeli civilian who shot a young Palestinian in Jerusalem. There was more rocket fire out of Gaza. And there were protests by Palestinian citizens of Israel.

INSKEEP: Daniel, is there a connection between the holy times on the calendar that A mentioned and the unholy violence that you're describing?

ESTRIN: Oh, yeah. I mean, the context here is that fundamentalist Jewish activists have been calling to slaughter a goat on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. This was an ancient Passover tradition that took place thousands of years ago when the temple stood there. And so young Palestinians have stockpiled fireworks and rocks at the mosque, and they're, you know, trying to confront Jewish activists. And so then police stormed the mosque to break this up, and that's when you have video of all this mayhem spreading. And it prompts alarm in the region. Yesterday, the Arab League met.

INSKEEP: People where you are must be concerned about this getting even further out of control.

ESTRIN: Yeah, this is really turning into an international incident, where you have Egypt and Jordan and the U.S. all working behind the scenes calling for calm. The U.N. Security Council is meeting today. They're all trying to contain the violence, but it's really hard to tell if all these tensions can be contained. We have seen in recent years how violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque can ripple outwards. And this year we have new combustible factors. Israel's far right is in power. They are hostile toward Palestinians. We've had a lot of West Bank violence in recent months. And we also have internal turmoil inside Israel over a controversial plan to overhaul the judiciary. That is adding to this sense of instability as well.

And so looking ahead in the coming days and in the coming week, we're going to see large numbers of Jews and Muslims gathering in Jerusalem for Passover and Ramadan. And you just see how fragile this situation is when any small act of violence gets caught on camera, and then it can quickly spread and provoke wider conflict.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Tel Aviv in Israel. Daniel, glad you're there. Thanks for your insights.

ESTRIN: You're welcome, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.