Palestinian terror groups warned Saturday of an “explosion” ahead of Sunday’s controversial Jerusalem Day flag march, where right-wing Israelis were given the green light to march through the capital’s Old City, taking the traditional route from Safra Square to the Western Wall via the Muslim Quarter.
Hamas fired a barrage of rockets into Jerusalem during last year’s march, sparking what became an 11-day Gaza-Israel war.
Former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said in a speech broadcast by Hamas-affiliated media on Saturday that Muslims around the world should “take to the streets tomorrow” on a “day of anger against Jerusalem.”
Palestinian Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab vowed the march would “lead to a broad multi-level explosion, and the resistance is still fully prepared to wage clashes in defense of our holy place.”
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said earlier this week that “the Palestinian people, led by the resistance — especially those in the West Bank and Jerusalem — will not allow this Jewish and Talmudic garbage to go unanswered.”
Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s conquest of the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, is celebrated by national-religious Jews, mostly young people marching in the capital by dancing with Israeli flags.
Protesters are 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.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev greenlighted the route this week, despite efforts by the Biden administration to push Israel to deflect the march.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid agreed the rally had “combustible” elements, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday, but Barlev’s decision was approved by ministers, the police and the Shin Bet security agency backing the route. .
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Barlev noted that the route through the Muslim Quarter is not new. They also point to last month’s decision to ban a similar gathering of religious nationalists and far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir, and suggested that allowing the Jerusalem Day march on Sunday was ‘sort of a compromise’ for the move, which was also made following US pressure, the Israeli official said, adding that additional security assessments will take place in the days leading up to the event.
Palestinians have long viewed the annual march as a provocation. Palestinian traders in the Old City are forced to close early on the day of the march to make way for right-wing marchers. Supporters of the rally consider it an integral part of their celebration of the anniversary of the city’s reunification in 1967.
Mashaal, who has not held an official post in Hamas for several years, said on Saturday that the Palestinians “must do a great thing so that they know that the aggression of Al-Aqsa [Mosque] will bring the heavens down to earth.
“Aggression against Al-Aqsa and attempts to divide it will make the nation boil with boundless rage,” he added.
Last year, Israel ended up changing the traditional route at the eleventh hour as tensions soared between Israel and Palestinians in Jerusalem. 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 of the 2021 march an hour before it was to be held following threats from Hamas. 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 in what eventually sparked an 11-day Gaza war.
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 will pass through the Old City via Damascus Gate, while the other half will pass through Jaffa Gate, likely only bypassing the Muslim Quarter. Police will deploy 3,000 officers to secure the gathering.
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.
On Wednesday, the US Embassy in Jerusalem issued a warning, prohibiting its employees from entering the Old City at any time on Sunday. The embassy said U.S. government employees cannot be in the Old City after dark or on Fridays, cannot use Damascus, the Herod and Lions Gate, and cannot enter the old town “at no time on Sunday May 29”.
He also called on American citizens to remain vigilant and exercise caution.
Also on Wednesday, Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai ordered that the level of preparedness be raised in Jerusalem and so-called mixed Jewish and Arab towns across the country ahead of the march.
Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip is a major concern, the Kan public broadcaster reported, citing police plans that include organizing the rapid evacuation of thousands of participants if the country comes under attack.
Shabtai conducted an assessment of the situation on Wednesday with senior officials from the police, border police, intelligence officials, Shin Bet security service, foreign ministry and others, the city said. police.
Shabtai ordered furloughs to be greatly reduced for Border Patrol and training courses to be canceled so officers could be deployed instead. Three companies will be called up from the reserves with the rest of the reserves ordered to be ready for eventual deployment.