Israel bracing for violence, rocket fire on Jerusalem Day

Hamas called on Palestinians to protect our Islamic and Christian holy sites and to raise the Palestinian flag everywhere to "emphasize the Arab identity of the land and Jerusalem."

Israelis celebrate Jerusalem day at the Western Wall as blaze is seen in the background at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem Old City, May 10, 2021. (photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)
Israelis celebrate Jerusalem day at the Western Wall as blaze is seen in the background at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem Old City, May 10, 2021.
(photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)

Security forces are on high alert ahead of Jerusalem Day today, readying for possible rocket fire from both Gaza and Lebanon as well as violent clashes with Palestinians in the capital and the West Bank.

The IDF is also prepared for possible terror attacks and is particularly concerned about an outbreak of violence on the Temple Mount.

A final security assessment will be held by senior officials later ahead of the flag march, a central part of Jerusalem Day festivities.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett approved the march’s route on Friday, which is expected to pass through the Old City’s Damascus Gate and Muslim Quarter and from there to the Western Wall, where it will end.

Bennett tweeted on Saturday night, "On Sunday we mark 55 years to the unification of Jerusalem. Today, thank God, Jerusalem is united and so it should remain for eternity."

Israeli officials have stressed that marchers will not enter the Temple Mount area and that the route is the same as it has been for 30 years.

 Right-wing activists prepare for flag march at Safra Square in Jerusalem, April 20, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Right-wing activists prepare for flag march at Safra Square in Jerusalem, April 20, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The march celebrates Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, when it captured the eastern half of the capital, including the Old City, from the Jordanians, who had banned the entry of Jews into the city.

A spiral of violence

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid “regarding the importance of Israelis and Palestinians working to maintain calm,” the State Department said on Friday.

“I am deeply concerned about the spiraling cycle of violence that has taken too many Palestinian and Israeli lives in recent weeks,” United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennessland said on Saturday.

“As we approach May 29, I call upon all sides to exercise maximum restraint and make wise decisions to avoid another violent conflict that will only claim more lives,” he said. “The message of the international community is clear: to avoid such an escalation. I have been in contact with all concerned parties and urge their leaders to heed this call.”

Dozens of violent riots broke out across the West Bank over the weekend, including in the areas of Hebron, Qalqilya and Nablus, as well as in the villages of Hurrawa and Beita.

On Friday night, a Palestinian teenager was killed by Israeli troops in the village of El-Khader near Bethlehem after throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails towards the forces, which was providing security at an intersection near the West Bank settlement of Efrat.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 15-year-old Zaid Muhammad Ghnaim was hit by fire in the neck and back.

The military said that a number of suspects hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at troops, who then chased after the assailants. During the chase, more stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown and troops responded with live fire.

The military identified one Palestinian being hit, the military said, adding that “Israeli forces gave first aid at the scene, and he was later evacuated by the Palestinian Red Crescent.”

Ghnaim was the third Palestinian youth to be killed by Israeli forces this week.

On Wednesday, 16-year-old Riat Rafik Amin was killed by Israeli troops after being shot in the head during clashes at Joseph’s Tomb in the city of Nablus. Last Saturday, 17-year-old Ahmed Fayed was killed in clashes with Israeli security forces in Jenin. Fayad, who was said to have been shot several times in his upper body, was later identified as being a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The clashes come as the IDF continues to crack down on Palestinians suspected of being involved in terrorism, following a spate of deadly attacks that claimed the lives of 20 people. The Israeli military has blamed religious incitement by groups like Hamas for the violence.

In a video statement, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj.-Gen. Ghassan Alian stressed that the status quo in Jerusalem remains the same for all religions and has not changed in over 30 years.

“We are in a period where attempted incitement is on the rise. I see the lies and stories and I am here to clarify: The flag march has been taking place for more than 30 years – this is not new. The parade takes place on Jerusalem Day – this is not new. And the route of the flag march is also not new,” he said in a video statement on the unit’s Facebook page.

“And what else isn’t new? The interests of elements looking to ignite the area, and their disregard for the consequences of an escalation,” he said, adding that Israel “won’t allow it to be harmed – for anyone.”

Explaining that Israel has been “expanding” its civilian-economic policy both in the West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, Alian warned that “undermining the security stability will harm these efforts, and the accomplishments so far.”

Hamas threaten Jerusalem

Hamas on Saturday called for a “broad mobilization” of Palestinians to “defend” Jerusalem and its holy sites during the flag march planned for Sunday.

The terrorist group and other Palestinian groups called on Palestinians to protest against the march by holding their own flag parade in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“Hamas calls on the Palestinians to protect our Islamic and Christian holy sites and to raise the Palestinian flag everywhere to emphasize the Arab identity of the land and Jerusalem,” the Gaza-based terror group said in a statement. “Let tomorrow, Sunday, become a public revolt for our people in defense of Jerusalem and the Aqsa Mosque.”

It called on all Arabs and Muslims to consider Sunday a “holy day” during which all efforts are devoted to thwarting Israeli plans to “Judaize” Jerusalem.

“This is a historical responsibility of our heroic Palestinian people and our great Arab and Islamic nation,” Hamas said. “We are partners in defending the Aqsa Mosque and liberating the land from the brutal Zionist occupation.”

Palestinian factions and activists urged worshipers to converge on the Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday morning to stop Jews celebrating Jerusalem Day from “storming” the site.

The factions have falsely claimed that Jews celebrating Jerusalem Day are planning to raise Israeli flags at the Temple Mount, warning that Israel would be held responsible for the consequences of such an action.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who is based in Qatar, said on Saturday that Israel was “fighting the Palestinian flag and wants the Israeli flag to prevail so that it could say that the Aqsa Mosque [compound] is under its political and religious sovereignty.”

Mashaal claimed that Israel was planning to “demolish” the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount.

Hamas’s position, he added, “is clear: Jerusalem and the Aqsa Mosque belongs only to the Palestinians and to the Arab and Islamic nation.”

Mashaal urged the Arabs and Muslims to take to the streets in solidarity with Palestinians “defending” the mosque in Jerusalem. He also called on Arab and Islamic governments to assume “historical responsibility” toward what is happening at the holy site and Jerusalem.

Some Hamas officials, meanwhile, continued to issue belligerent statements regarding the flag march.

One official, Mohammed Hamadeh, said that Hamas won’t allow Israel to “emerge victorious” in Jerusalem.

Israel was “playing with fire” by allowing Jews to organize the flag march at Damascus Gate, he said.

“Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa are a redline and the march will not pass,” Hamadeh cautioned, arguing that the flag march illustrates the extent of Israel’s “confusion.”

Another senior Hamas official, Haroun Nasser el-Din, said that his group’s response will be “decisive and firm” if Israel tries to harm the Aqsa Mosque.

Palestinian Authority Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Fadi al-Hidmi warned of the repercussions of the “provocative” flags march, saying it indicated an Israeli desire to escalate the situation in Jerusalem.

“The Israeli occupation government bears full responsibility for the repercussions of this provocative and racist march, and the international community must deal with it accordingly,” al-Hidmi said. “The march serves as an alarm bell to the whole world that it is time for this long-standing occupation to end, and for the city’s residents to enjoy security and peace like all other peoples.”

A group called the Popular Youth Movement in Jerusalem urged the residents of the capital to consider Sunday as Palestinian Flag Day in response to the Israeli flag march.

The group urged east Jerusalem’s residents to raise Palestinian flags on every house in the city.

It also encouraged the residents to try to reach Damascus Gate while carrying Palestinian flags.

The group called on Muslims to converge on the Aqsa Mosque on Sunday to “stand united in the face of the Zionist incursion.”

The PLO’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, for its part, warned that allowing the flag march to take place at Damascus Gate would be considered a “declaration of war.”

Maher Mezher, a senior PFLP official, said: “We are ready to respond.”

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.