Jerusalem on edge ahead of right-wing flag march

Jerusalem on edge ahead of right-wing flag march

Jerusalem is on edge in advance of a rightwing Israeli parade that will pass through Muslim parts of the Old City after violence during the same event last year sparked an 11 day war between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group in the Gaza Strip.

The annual flag march, a procession in which thousands of religious nationalists enter the highly symbolic Damascus Gate and walk through the Muslim Quarter waving Israeli flags, takes place at sunset on what Israel calls Jerusalem Day, the celebration of its capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.

It is often accompanied by racist chants and violence and viewed by the Palestinians as deeply provocative. This year, the flag march comes at a particularly tense time: Israel has suffered its worst wave of terrorist attacks in the last two months, killing 19 people, while Israel Defence Forces IDF raids in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank have left about 35 Palestinians dead, including Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh.

Hundreds of people have been injured by clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters at Jerusalem's sensitive al-Aqsa compound, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims.

On Sunday, about 2,000 Jewish pilgrims, including Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of a small ultranationalist opposition party in the Knesset, visited al-Aqsa, known in Judaism as the Temple Mount, accompanied by Israeli police. The visit caused about 40 Palestinians, who had barricaded themselves overnight inside the mosque, to throw rocks and fireworks.

The police said in a statement that they locked the gates of the mosque and made several arrests before the situation calmed around midday. There were no reports of injuries.

Jews are allowed to visit, but not to pray at the site. In the past few years, growing numbers of Jewish visitors, sometimes praying or with police escorts, have inflamed longstanding Palestinian fears that Israel plans to annex the area. Israel says it is committed to maintaining the status quo, and accuses Hamas of inciting the recent violence.

More than 3,000 Israeli police were deployed to Jerusalem on Sunday. According to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, the IDF is on a heightened state of alert across the occupied Palestinian territories, and has adjusted its deployment of anti-missile batteries in anticipation of possible rocket fire from both Gaza and Lebanon.

In the last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to diffuse tensions ahead of the flag march by ordering the usual route diverte away from Damascus Gate, but it was not enough to prevent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at the Temple Mount. The violence at the holy site caused Hamas to launch a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem, sparking the devastating war last May.

Despite calls for a rerouting of the march this year from some of his own coalition allies, Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has allowed the parade to proceed as planned, a decision that was met with anger by Palestinians who warned it could cause more violence.

The Palestinian Authority spokeswoman Nabil Abu Rudeineh condemned the clashes at Al-Aqsa on Sunday morning, telling the Voice of Palestine radio station that Israel considers itself above international law and is playing with fire by irresponsibly and recklessly allowing settlers to desecrate sanctities in occupied Jerusalem.