The Palestinian terror group Hamas and other terror factions based in the Palestinian enclave are said to be at odds over how to respond to the annual Jerusalem Day flag march in the Muslim Quarter on Sunday.
According to a Channel 12 report Saturday night, citing Palestinian sources, Hamas is against launching rockets into Israel in response to the nationalist-religious march, while Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other smaller factions are in favor.
Israeli officials quoted by the Kan public broadcaster said on Saturday they did not expect Hamas to escalate the situation, but were still preparing for the possibility of rocket fire.
Hamas called for a “day of rage” in Jerusalem while Palestinian Islamic Jihad warned of an “explosion” if the event goes as planned.
On Sunday afternoon, marchers are scheduled to march along Jaffa Street to Damascus Gate, where access will be blocked for Palestinians. They will continue into the Old City via Hagai Street in the Muslim Quarter and end at the Western Wall.
Last year, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets into Jerusalem during the march, sparking what became an 11-day Gaza-Israel war.
On Saturday afternoon, the Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency reported that terror groups in the Gaza Strip had fired rockets towards the Mediterranean Sea. According to Palestinian media, at least eight rockets were fired.
Earlier this week, Israeli air defense systems, including the Iron Dome batteries, were placed on a higher state of alert. On Saturday evening, the IDF reinforced Iron Dome deployments across the country.
Senior officials from the Israel Defense Forces Gaza Division told community leaders along the border with the Gaza Strip that they did not expect an escalation on Jerusalem Day, Channel 13 reported. .
“We are ready for any scenario, but we expect it to be calm in the [Gaza] envelope,” a senior officer said.
Defense officials have sent signals through the media and elsewhere that Israel is not seeking escalation, but is ready for the possibility of escalation.
Israel reportedly passed messages to Hamas via Egypt and Qatar, warning it would strike Gaza if the enclave’s ruling terror group fired rockets at Israel over the march.
Last year, Israel ended up changing the traditional route at the last moment as tensions in Jerusalem ran high. Israeli police had repeatedly clashed with Palestinians at the flashpoint holy site of the Temple Mount during the final days of the holy month of Ramadan, injuring hundreds. There were also tensions around potential evictions of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Israeli authorities changed the route an hour before the start of the march and police deployed in the Old City to try to prevent Israeli marchers from reaching Damascus Gate. The organizers then declared the cancellation of the event but hundreds of participants flocked to the old city. Shortly after, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets towards Jerusalem, triggering what became an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups.
This year, organizers of the march have decided to limit the number of participants to 16,000 to cross the Old City to the Western Wall, citing concerns about overcrowding following the deadly crash of Mount Meron Lag BaOmer in 2021. Half of the group must pass through the Old City via Damascus Gate, while the other half will pass through Jaffa Gate, likely bypassing the Muslim Quarter.
Police will deploy 3,000 officers to secure the rally.