Tensions were high in the occupied Palestinian territories on Tuesday as Israeli nationalists gathered for a controversial march through East Jerusalem.
The so-called March of Flags celebrates the anniversary of Israel’s 1967 occupation of the city’s eastern sector.
“The right to protest is a right in all democracies,” Israeli Minister of Homeland Security Omer Bar-Lev said. “The police are ready and we will do everything in our power to preserve the delicate thread of coexistence.”
Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem since the 1967 Six Day War is unrecognized by most of the international community, which asserts that the city’s final status should be a matter of negotiation between the two sides.
The Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state.
Here are the latest updates:
Israeli police prevent Palestinians from reaching Damascus gate
Palestinian media reported that Israeli police forces prevented Palestinians from reaching the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Videos posted on social media showed that Israeli police were setting up metal barricades while Palestinians were prevented from crossing the barriers.
The occupation prevents the population from reaching Bab al-Amud during this period pic.twitter.com/eeA1HE0nR4
– AlQastal Al Qastal (@AlQastalps) June 15, 2021
Translation: Israeli forces prevent Palestinians from reaching Damascus Gate.
“Obvious provocation,” says Israeli adviser
Laura Wharton, city councilor for the Jerusalem City Council, told The Associated Press that she considered the planned march “completely ridiculous.”
“This is a clear provocation from the far right wingers who are unhappy with the government, unhappy with a lot of things, and are going to take their frustrations out on the people of the Old Town,” Wharton said.
The march is a first test for Israel’s fragile new government, which was sworn in on Sunday and includes parties from all political backgrounds.
The cancellation of the march would have opened Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other right-wing members of the coalition to intense criticism from those who would see it as a surrender to Hamas leaders in Gaza.
Iron Dome defense system ready in southern Israel
Batteries of the Iron Dome missile defense system could be seen in southern Israel, as the military deployed them amid heightened tensions with the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
The decision of the new Israeli government to approve the controversial parade of Israeli nationalists through the Palestinian areas around the Old City of Jerusalem raises the possibility of new confrontations just weeks after an 11-day war with Hamas.
“The Palestinians are very angry”
Hussein Nasser Ed Din, 35, of Shuafat in occupied East Jerusalem, said there could be major problems if more people gathered at Damascus Gate to confront Israeli protesters.
But he said a lot of police are present in order to prevent people from arriving. Most of the problems will occur in the old town, the local media logistics manager suggested.
“The Palestinians are very angry. People are terrified of losing their homes to the forced evictions and demolitions, ”Eddin told Al Jazeera.
Khalid Alian, 26, of Jabal al-Mukaber also denounced Israeli settlers for forcing Palestinians out of their homes.
“This is our land and the settlers are taking our land and robbing us of our future and our dreams. Eight of my friends were killed by Israeli soldiers. If you had documents proving ownership of your land, how would you feel if you were evicted to make way for the settlers? ” He asked.
Israel deploys thousands more police before March
Israeli police said they would deploy 2,000 troops to protect participants in the planned “flag march” through occupied East Jerusalem.
According to the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, police forces will be deployed near the routes that participants take during the march.
The broadcaster said the Israeli police also decided to step up their presence in mixed towns inside Israel in anticipation of the violence.
“All options are on the table,” warns Hamas
When the march was originally announced for last week, senior Hamas official Khalil Hayya warned it could spark a return to violence that left more than 256 dead in Gaza and 11 in Israel last month.
Hamas spokesman Mohammed Hamadeh said mediators had been in contact with Palestinian armed groups in recent days asking them “not to engage in a military escalation on the basis of the march.”
“All options, however, remain on the table,” Hamadeh said.
Last month’s conflict began after Hamas set a deadline for Israel to withdraw its forces from sensitive areas in East Jerusalem, then fired a round of rockets at Israel when the ultimatum went unheeded.
Israeli settlers begin to rally for nationalist march
Israeli settlers began arriving at noon as they were escorted by plainclothes policemen.
Heavily armed paramilitary border police and other forces patrolled the city’s streets, set up checkpoints and blocked roads throughout East Jerusalem.
Iron barriers were placed in front of the entrance to the Damascus Gate, where the Palestinians said they would gather to confront the Israelis.
Young Palestinian men stood at street corners to watch, and Palestinian store owners began to shut down their businesses. Anti-March protests were expected against the march after the noon prayers.
Hundreds of Palestinians have gathered in the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque since morning to prevent settlers from trying to enter. Bus loads came from inside Israel.
Activists say that if Israeli settlers stay away from the complex, the clashes will be less intense. Groups of young boys chanted slogans and refused to move away as police stood nearby.