Gazans said they prepare rockets, Israelis prepare shelters ahead of Jerusalem Day march

Palestinian terror groups in Gaza on Thursday were said to be preparing rocket launchers to fire at Israel if it holds a highly charged nationalist march through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City as planned for Sunday.

Israel insisted that the march would go ahead as planned and would proceed through the Muslim Quarter as in the past.

With tensions rising ahead of the march, which led to an 11-day Israel-Gaza war when it was held last year, both the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups have also put their armed forces on high alert, media reported. Israeli and Palestinian communication. At the same time, the Palestinian daily Al-Quds said that Gazan groups are not interested in being drawn into a conflict at this time, as it would disrupt work to rehabilitate Gaza from last year’s fighting with Israel.

However, Channel 12 news said that Hamas had fired four rockets into the sea off Gaza as a direct message. And a joint statement issued after a gathering of Palestinian armed groups in Gaza warned that Sunday’s Jerusalem Day Flag March was “a tinderbox that will blow up the entire area… All options are on the table to fight criminals.” Israelis”.

Hamas also urged Palestinians to head to the disputed Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site and the site of Islam’s third holiest shrine, on Jerusalem Day “to thwart occupation plans.” The Flag March does not enter the Temple Mount area.

Israel, in response, told Hamas rulers in Gaza through international mediators that the Jerusalem Day parade would go ahead as planned even at the risk of a security escalation, Channel 12 news said. Israel also reportedly warned terror groups that any rocket fire would be met with counterattacks.

A soldier from the Israeli army’s Home Front Command walks in front of a house in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, which was hit by a Hamas rocket on May 20, 2021. (Edi Israel/Flash90)

US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides reportedly raised concerns about the Flag March in a phone call with Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, concerned that it could fuel an escalation of violence. Barlev responded that he understood the concern and emphasized that the police were working to avoid provocation or friction. But my father [Haim Barlev] as deputy chief of staff he gave the order to liberate Jerusalem. This is our capital,” said the minister. “The march is a 30-year tradition.”

Behind the scenes, the Biden administration has been pressuring Israel to divert the Flag March away from Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

Inside Israel, municipal authorities in a city near the Gaza Strip prepared public bomb shelters for use on Thursday, as police officials expressed confidence that tensions could be prevented from spiraling out of control.

Sunday marks Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of the city’s unification during the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli nationalists mark the day with an annual march of flag-waving participants, which usually proceeds through the Gate from Damascus through the densely populated Muslim quarter of the Old City and towards the Western Wall.

A year ago, Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem during the march, which came amid heightened tensions over the planned eviction of Palestinian families from East Jerusalem homes, sparking an 11-day Israel-Gaza war. .

Police blocked nationalists who intended to stage a similar march through the Old City last month, but gave the green light for the Jerusalem Day parade to follow its traditional route, reigniting Palestinian anger and ringing again war drums.

Israel has emphasized to Hamas through mediators that the route of the march is no different from previous years and does not include the Temple Mount.

Officials have insisted the march will continue even at the risk of escalation with Gaza or Lebanon, where the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group has also made threats about the event. Officials have also rejected the idea of ​​diverting the procession to take a less provocative route, according to reports on Thursday.

“There is no reason to change the route of the march, even if there is rocket fire,” a senior police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Channel 12 news. “We shouldn’t worry about marching within the boundaries of Israel and realize our sovereignty, even if they fire rockets,” he said.

The officer said past experience had shown that giving in to threats only costs the country more in the long run. “What if next time the threats are made on the eve of Independence Day?” he asked. “We will stop celebrating.”

Regarding concerns about the repetition of deadly clashes in Israeli cities with mixed Arab and Jewish populations, as it developed last year in the context of the war with Gaza, the official said that “this year we are stronger in the mixed cities. and we are ready for any script.”

Kobi Yaakobi, a senior Jerusalem-area police officer, told Channel 12: “We don’t need to let terrorist groups set the agenda for us.”

Palestinian terror groups had threatened on Wednesday that they would not allow Israeli “provocations” to go unanswered.

A high-level source with knowledge of the terror groups told Al-Quds daily that Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s rocket-firing cells are on high alert, Hebrew media reported Thursday. But the groups have also given clear instructions that no group fire rockets unless an order is given from higher commanders, the source said.

Jewish nationalists wave Israeli flags during the Flag March outside the Damascus gate outside Jerusalem’s Old City, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Hamas asked the Palestinians to go to the Al-Aqsa mosque at dawn on Jerusalem Day “to thwart the occupation plans.”

“We warn the occupation leaders against any miscalculation in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa. We reiterate that we advance with all strength, determination and certainty in the defense of our Jerusalem,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority called on Palestinians to gather at Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday and “remain there to thwart the plan to divide Al-Aqsa.” The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Religious Affairs reportedly prepared a missive to be read in mosques during weekly sermons this Friday.

The document cites a recent controversial court decision from Jerusalem, which was overturned by a higher court on Wednesday, which is sympathetic to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, and calls the Flag March “a blow to honor and faith.” of the Islamic nation. It describes the protesters as “war delegations against the Palestinian people and the Islamic nation,” Channel 12 news reported.

Israel has sent messages to Hamas through Qatari and Egyptian mediators that it is not interested in escalation. At the same time, the IDF prepared the Iron Dome missile defense batteries and drew up attack plans should they become necessary, according to Hebrew media reports. Palestinian media reported that many IDF drones operated in the skies over Gaza on Thursday and said the terror groups abandoned their positions as a precaution.

On the Israeli side of the border, the municipality of Sderot began deploying mobile bomb shelters around the border town marked by the rockets, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Police said on Wednesday they would deploy some 3,000 officers to protect the march, as well as thousands more to keep the peace in the city and other areas where tensions may boil over.

But vendors in the Old City said they would close their shops before the march, accusing participants of wreaking havoc and attacking Palestinians and their property during the annual event in recent years.

“I think it will be much worse due to the rebellious behavior of the settlers in the Old City,” an Arab vendor told Channel 13 news.

Amir Ben Kiki, a senior Jerusalem police officer, told Channel 13 news: “We will prepare to allow freedom of religion, freedom of expression as a sovereign state.”

Commander of the Border Police. Eli Gozlan, from the investigations and intelligence department, told the Ynet website that the biggest concern is incitement on social media, led by Hamas, which is spreading “fake news.”

“For more than thirty years we have been marching down the same route,” Gozlan said. “There is no intention to change the existing route, and certainly not to enter the Temple Mount. All the lies that are spread in the media are a fatal blow to democracy and are inciting violence and unrest.”

Police officers stand guard during the ‘Flag March’ at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, on June 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He said there were no specific warnings of threats to the march.

He added that officers would be prepared to prevent any provocateurs among the protesters from trying to stir up trouble.

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