The police in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday arrested 21 people for expressing solidarity with Palestinians and holding protests against Israel’s military actions in Gaza, The Hindu reported.

The police called the demonstrations an attempt “to engineer and incite violence on streets” of the Valley. Inspector General Vijay Kumar told The Hindu that 20 people were booked in Srinagar and one was held in Shopian.

The crackdown came a day after protests were held in Srinagar’s Padshahi Bagh and Safa Kadal areas, where a small group burnt an Israeli flag and drew graffiti in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and Jerusalem. The families of those detained alleged that the police conducted midnight raids against the protestors, according to The Hindu.

Among those arrested included Kashmir-based artist Mudasir Gul, who was held for painting pro-Palestinian graffiti on a bridge in Srinagar on Friday. The artwork showed a woman wearing a scarf made of a Palestinian flag and a tear tricking from her eye, with the words: “WE ARE PALESTINE.” The graffiti was later painted over by police, according to The Kashmir Walla.

Besides Gul, a Muslim cleric, Sarjan Barkati, was was taken into preventive custody on Friday for violating Covid-19 lockdown. However, unidentified officials told The Print the preacher’s detention came after a video of him extending support to Palestine surfaced on social media.

The Hindu reported that Barkati had “addressed people during Id [Eid] prayers” and “prayed for Palestine”.

The police in a statement said they were keeping a “close watch on elements who are attempting to leverage the unfortunate situation in Palestine to disturb public peace and order” in Kashmir. The statement said police were “sensitive to public anguish” but wouldn’t allow its “cynical encashment” to “trigger violence, lawlessness and disorder”.

“All irresponsible social media comments that result in actual violence and breaking of law including COVID-19 protocol will attract legal action,” the police added.

Israel’s actions in Palestine

At least 139 people, including several children, have been killed in Gaza since Israeli attacks began earlier this week, the AP reported. Israeli military said the airstrikes were in retaliation for the Palestinian militant group Hamas firing rockets into Israel, but experts have pointed out that the escalation was a result of Tel Aviv’s own actions in Sheikh Jarrah.

At the heart of the conflict is an Israeli Supreme Court hearing, which was due on May 10, in a long-running legal case about whether several Palestinian families would be evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood near Damascus Gate that was given to Israeli settlers.

As the court hearing neared, Palestinians and Left-wing Israelis began holding larger demonstrations, saying more evictions could cause a domino effect throughout the overwhelmingly Palestinian neighbourhood.

Tensions escalated when Israeli security forces firing rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at worshipers gathered at Al-Aqsa mosque on May 7. On May 15, the country’s military demolished a high-rise building in Gaza housing the offices of Al Jazeera and the AP.

Multiple countries have condemned the violence. India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations TS Tirumurti said New Delhi was deeply concerned about the clashes and violence in Haram Al Sharif and Temple Mount and the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods. India has called on both sides to avoid changing the status-quo on the ground.