Israel braces for unrest over ultranationalist march in Jerusalem
Israelis are preparing for possible unrest ahead of a planned march by Jewish ultranationalists through East Jerusalem that could ignite Palestinian protests and clashes with police only weeks after an an 11-day Gaza war.
The march poses an early test for Israel’s fragile new government, which was sworn in on Sunday and includes parties from across the political spectrum, including a small Arab party.
Cancelling the march would have opened the prime minister, Naftali Bennett, and other rightwing members of the coalition to intense criticism from those who would view it as a capitulation to Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers.
Hamas has called on Palestinians to “resist” the march.
Mansour Abbas, whose small party is the first Arab faction to join a governing coalition, told a local radio station he was opposed to any “provocation”, adding that “anyone who has watched and followed this parade knows what its purpose is”.
Police approved a route that will pass by the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, where Palestinian protesters clashed with police over restrictions on public gatherings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in April and May.
Unrest eventually spread to Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a flashpoint holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims, and merged with protests over the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.
Every year, Israeli ultranationalists wave blue-and-white flags and chant slogans as they march through the Damascus Gate and into the crowded heart of the Muslim Quarter to celebrate Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.
The parade was originally scheduled for 10 May. As thousands of Jewish activists began the procession, police ordered a change in the route to avoid the Damascus Gate. Hamas militants in Gaza then fired a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem, igniting the war that took more than 250 Palestinian lives and killed 13 people in Israel.
The United Nations deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, said UN officials had urged all sides to avoid “provocations” in order to solidify the informal ceasefire that halted the Gaza war.
Omer Bar-Lev, the new cabinet minister who oversees police, said security officials reassured him they were prepared for the march. He did not specify what route it would take.
Israeli media said the crowd would walk past the Damascus Gate but not enter the Muslim Quarter. Hundreds of police will deployed ahead of the march, which is scheduled to begin in the early evening.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers the area, home to the city’s most sensitive religious sites, to be part of its capital. The competing claims to the holy city by Palestinians and Israelis lie at the heart of the conflict and have sparked many rounds of violence.
Hamas issued a statement calling on Palestinians to show “valiant resistance” to the march. It urged people to gather in the streets of the Old City and at Al-Aqsa mosque to “rise up in the face of the occupier and resist it by all means to stop its crimes and arrogance”.
Mohammad Shtayyeh, the prime minister of the internationally backed Palestinian Authority, also denounced the march, calling it a “provocation and aggression against our people”.
Israeli Channel 13 TV said the military was on heightened alert in the occupied West Bank and along the Gaza front to prepare for possible violence.