Terror group threatens to respond to planned flag parade ‘the same way’ it did on May 10, when rockets it launched at capital set off 11-day military conflict
By TOI staff14 Jun 2021, 1:18 pm
Israeli security officials are gearing up for a possible outbreak of violence tied to a contentious march by Jewish right-wing nationalists scheduled to be held through parts of Jerusalem’s Old City Tuesday, amid threats that the parade could send the region spiraling back toward war for the second time in as many months.
The march, rescheduled after the original event on Jerusalem Day, May 10, was stopped short by Hamas rocket fire at Jerusalem, is expected to be the first major test faced by Israel’s new government, which was sworn in on Sunday.
Hamas officials have warned both the previous Israeli administration and the new one that allowing the march to go ahead could spark a regional war, the Lebanese al-Akhbar daily reported Monday.
It said the warnings were passed via Egyptian and international mediators, including Cairo spy chief Abbas Kamel, who played a key role in brokering an agreement that ended the fighting last month.
According to the report, Kamel was told that the situation would “explode” if the march went ahead and Hamas would respond “the same way” it did on May 10, when it fired missiles at Jerusalem, sending parade-goers and the rest of the city scrambling for cover.
The May 10 attack, which came amid already rising tensions over planned East Jerusalem home evictions and police actions against Muslim rioters on the Temple Mount, set off 11 days of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas-led fighters in the Gaza Strip, as well as a rash of lower-level clashes in the West Bank and mob violence between Arabs and Jews inside Israel.
Al-Akhbar, seen as closely linked to Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, did not attribute the information to a source.
Since the fighting ended, Hamas has repeatedly warned it could reopen hostilities over developments in Jerusalem and has responded with increased belligerence to plans for the march, an annual event held to mark Israel’s 1967 capture of East Jerusalem during which thousands of nationalist youths parade through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City toward the Western Wall.
In an interview published Monday with Hamas mouthpiece Shehab, top Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar warned that the group would respond to any perceived Israeli crime, but also indicated that it would not shoot from the hip.
“We have passed the stage of understanding their crimes against our people or being silent about them,” he said, but added that “our steps must also be disciplined and governed by the public interest, and we must preserve our weapons so that we can fully utilize them” in future fighting.
A source quoted by al-Akhbar dismissed Israeli claims of preparations for battle as saber-rattling, and also denied that Hamas would limit its response to incendiary balloons or rockets confined to areas near Israel’s Gaza border, as Israeli officials have reportedly assessed it would do.
On Sunday, senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk said that “striking all of Israel’s cities” is still an option, the Kan public broadcaster reported.
Hamas’s warnings appear to hinge on whether or not the march passes through the Damascus Gate, which brings people into the heart of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
While the route of the march usually does pass through the Damascus Gate, police have ordered that the route be changed so that marchers enter the Old City through the Jaffa Gate instead, passing the outside of the Damascus Gate on their way there.
Police are expected to make a final decision Monday on whether to allow the parade to go ahead, following a meeting between new Public Security Minister Omer Barlev and Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai on preparations for the march.
“According to regulations, it is the responsibility of the police to determine if and how to do the march. I trust the chief of police. I have no doubt that in light of the experience of the recent period, they learned the lessons,” Barlev told Kan news Sunday.
If Barlev doesn’t approve the march, the matter will be brought before the security cabinet.
On Saturday Kan reported that security officials assessed Hamas would not respond to the repeat march with rocket fire, but may try launching incendiary balloons from Gaza or initiate terror attacks in the West Bank.
A security source quoted by Walla news said that the IDF would bolster forces at potential conflict areas along the security barrier around Jerusalem and in the West Bank, fearing terror attacks and lower-level violence, such as stone-throwing attacks.
“At the same time, air defense readiness will be upped given Hamas’s threats to respond to the Jerusalem march,” the source was quoted saying.
The rescheduled event was initially planned for last Thursday, but was postponed to this Tuesday when police had refused to authorize it as it was set to follow a path through the Old City’s Damascus Gate entrance and Muslim Quarter.
On Thursday, clashes broke out between East Jerusalem protesters and Israel Police, as far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir marched to Damascus Gate. Ben Gvir waved an Israeli flag at the site, in what he said was a personal protest after police banned him from parading through the Muslim Quarter to reach the Temple Mount. Ben Gvir had tried to organize his parade as a protest to the postponement of the flag march to this week.
After Ben Gvir’s visit, and amid the rioting that followed, the Hamas military wing issued a statement saying that it was watching developments closely.