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US Embassy Issues Security Alert over Jaffa Protests

The United States Embassy in Israel has issued a security alert for Jaffa following a series of protests that have descended into clashes with police. Tensions in the Arab-majority neighborhood erupted last week after the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality vowed to press ahead with the construction of a homeless shelter on lands that were found to contain a Muslim gravesite, known as the Maqbarat al-Is’aaf. The discovery was made when the bones of at least 30 different people were uncovered after the demolition of an Ottoman-era home that a nonprofit organization had been using as a temporary shelter. Some of the remains were dated as far back as the Hellenistic period. The unrest continued overnight Saturday-Sunday, as a number of vehicles were set ablaze and a municipal building was targeted with a Molotov cocktail. “Protests may turn violent to include vandalism, rock-throwing, burning of tires, vehicles, and [firebombs],” a statement on the US Embassy’s website said. “The Embassy strongly encourages US citizens to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness … [as] incidents often take place without warning.” For its part, the municipality released a statement condemning the violence while qualifying that “the perpetrators of these acts were part of a small group that does not represent most of the residents of Jaffa, who have a great deal of trust in [local authorities].” Officials nevertheless made clear that plans to build on the grounds would proceed in accordance with a court ruling. Following a lengthy legal battle, the presiding judge in January ruled that the city could move forward with the initiative as the cemetery had not been used by the community for at least 100 years and had been used as a public space for eight decades without any objections.