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Palestinian protesters and Jewish settlers clash in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, February 13, 2022.AMMAR AWAD/Reuters

Israeli police fanned out in a tense East Jerusalem neighbourhood late Sunday as they tried to contain violent unrest between ultranationalist Jewish activists and Palestinian residents.

The unrest took place in Sheikh Jarrah, a flashpoint neighbourhood where clashes last year helped spark an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

Dozens of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and other East Jerusalem neighbourhoods are at risk of eviction by Jewish settler organizations. Tensions between the sides often spill over into violence.

The latest unrest erupted after a settler’s home was torched over the weekend. Itamar Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist lawmaker, responded to the fire by setting up a makeshift office in the neighbourhood early Sunday. Palestinians moved in on Ben-Gvir’s tent, throwing plastic chairs Sunday afternoon and scuffling with his supporters.

Late Sunday, riot police sprayed putrid-smelling water to break up Palestinian protests. One video on social media showed an Israeli policeman kicking a young Palestinian man. Police reported at least 12 arrests.

Ben-Gvir, a follower of a radical rabbi who called for the expulsion of Arabs from Israel, accused police of using “extreme brutality” against his followers. He said he would spend the night in the area “so they will learn.”

In addition to the threatened evictions, thousands of Palestinians live in homes in East Jerusalem that face the threat of demolition because of discriminatory policies that make it extremely difficult for Palestinians to build new homes or expand existing ones. Threatened evictions, tied up in decades-old battles between Palestinian residents and Jewish settlers, set off protests and clashes last May that helped ignite the Gaza war.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. It later annexed East Jerusalem, home to the city’s most sensitive holy sites, in a move that is not recognized by the international community.

Israel considers the entire city to be its capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. The city’s fate is one of the most divisive issues in the century-old conflict.