- Gaza militant group Hamas on Wednesday called on Palestinians to confront a parade planned by Jewish nationalists to take place in the main Palestinian street in Jerusalem’s Old City.
- Comments about the flag-waving parade raise the risk that fighting between Israelis and Palestinian militants in Gaza could resume.
- In a Jerusalem Day speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had opened up “new horizons” since it captured East Jerusalem.
The ruling militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday called on Palestinians to face a flag-waving parade planned by Jewish nationalists through the main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Hamas’ comments added to already heightened tensions ahead of Thursday’s march and threatened to reignite fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, just days after the ceasefire went into effect. Two years ago, during the annual march, an 11-day war broke out between Israel and Hamas.
While Hamas stayed out of the latest round of fighting, officials at the ruling Islamic militant group urged Palestinians to oppose Thursday’s parade.
“We call on the people of Jerusalem to mobilize the masses to face the flag march in Jerusalem tomorrow,” said Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas official in Gaza.
Hamas also urged Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and inside Israel to “clash with the occupation” and said it would hold a demonstration with Palestinian flags along Gaza’s heavily fortified border with Israel.
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The parade is meant to mark “Jerusalem Day”, Israel’s annual celebration of its capture of East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites, in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel considers the entire city to be its eternal capital. But the international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the Palestinians claim the area as the capital of a future state.
In a Jerusalem Day speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had opened up “new horizons” since it captured East Jerusalem.
“We are committed to safeguarding Jerusalem’s security, ensuring its prosperity and continuing its momentum,” he said. “We are also doing it against all the threats that surround us.”
Every year, thousands of Israeli nationalists join the march, waving blue-and-white Israeli flags and singing songs as they pass through the Muslim Quarter and on their way to the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray.
Israelis describe the parade as a festive event. But in past years it has been marred by racist anti-Arab chanting and violence against local Palestinians by some of the protesters.
Adding to the flammable atmosphere, large numbers of Jews are expected to visit Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site on Thursday ahead of the parade.
The hilltop complex is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, home to Biblical Jewish temples, and is Judaism’s holiest site. Palestinians call it the Noble Shrine, and today it houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
Under long-standing agreements, Jews are permitted to visit the complex but not to pray there. But an increase in such visits in recent years, coupled with scenes of some Jews praying silently, have raised concern among Palestinians that Israel is seeking to alter the status quo — a charge Israel denies.
The conflicting claims over the site are at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and often escalate into violence.
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Chief Superintendent Yoram Segal, a senior police official in Jerusalem, said police would deploy about 2,500 officers on Thursday to ensure the day passes without violence.
“We will treat anyone who tries to disturb the peace harshly,” he told reporters.
The march comes less than a week after Israel and the Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza reached a ceasefire that ended five days of heavy fighting.
Hamas, the de facto government in Gaza responsible for the plight of the territory’s 2.3 million inhabitants, has stayed out of the fighting, while Israel has refrained from attacking the militant group.
Reham Owda, an independent analyst based in Gaza, said neither side seems interested in resuming cross-border violence.
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“No one is interested in a fierce escalation,” he said, but said the parade could trigger “limited and symbolic” rocket fire which in turn could trigger Israeli airstrikes in retaliation.
If violence breaks out in Jerusalem, Hamas could join the fray, as it did two years ago.
“The resistance is ready to protect the Al-Aqsa mosque and prevent the Judaization of Jerusalem,” al-Masri said.