Thousands of people took part in the controversial right-wing Flag March in Jerusalem on Tuesday, with police clashing with hundreds of Palestinian protesters near the Old City's Damascus Gate as tensions with Gaza run high after last month's fighting.
Seventeen Palestinian protesters were arrested in the clashes and mounted police and skunk water were used to disperse the crowds.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said that 33 protesters were wounded, though none were seriously injured. Six of them were taken to the hospital. Two police Israeli officers were also taken to hospital for treatment after Palestinian protesters hurled stones at them.
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A few marchers clashed with demonstrators at Damascus Gate, threatening Palestinian women who were standing alone. Some of them chanted: “Death to Arabs,” and “May your village burn down.”
About 2,000 police officers were deployed to guard the marchers. Dozens of shop owners in the Old City closed their stores after police implored them to do so by 4 P.M., an hour and a half before the parade kicked off.
The Flag March is an annual event in which right-wing Jewish groups parade through the Old City carrying Israeli flags to celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War.
The March was scheduled to take place last month. Its route was first diverted due to security concerns; it was then aborted due to Hamas rocket fire from Gaza toward Jerusalem, which sparked an 11-day round of fighting between Israel and Hamas. On Friday, organizers of the Jerusalem Flag March reached an agreement with the Israel Police to hold the march again on Tuesday along an agreed-upon route.
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Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said later on Tuesday that the militant group's “brave resistance force forced Israel to change the route of the Flag March” so that it would not pass next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Barhoum added that Israel “increased the deployment of the Iron Dome" proved that Hamas succeeded in deterring Israel following the latest escalation with Gaza.
Police limited the number of people who could attend the Israeli flag dance at the Damascus Gate Plaza to 300 people. According to the plan agreed upon by the organizers and the police, the marchers were not to pass through the Muslim Quarter as they had requested, and instead marched through peripheral areas.
Twenty fires broke out in Israel close to the Gaza border due to explosive-laden balloons launched from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in response to the march.
According to a report on Al Arabiya network, citing unnamed sources, Egypt had asked Hamas and Islamic Jihad to refrain from any response that would lead to an escalation, and the two groups told Cairo they were not looking to escalate the situation.
Islamic Jihad called on Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank to be present along the route of the Flag March and “protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
The group also said they would renew protests along the Gaza border Tuesday night, as well as launch incendiary balloons from the Strip into Israel.
Prior to the march, the United Nations’ Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland, said on Twitter: “Tensions (are) rising again in Jerusalem at a very fragile and sensitive security and political time, when UN and Egypt are actively engaged in solidifying the cease-fire.”
He urged “all relevant parties to act responsibly and avoid any provocations that could lead to another round of confrontation.”
“The Flag March will take place in spite of Hamas and Islamic Jihad opposition,” Religious Zionism lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir said on Tuesday, prior to the start of the event. “I will participate in the Flag March and will fly the Israeli flag with pride,” he added. “We don’t need a permission by Hamas, Islamic Jihad … to march in Israel’s capital.”
Meanwhile, Islamist lawmaker and member of Naftali Bennett’s newly established coalition, Mansour Abbas, said on Tuesday that the march is an “unrestrained provocation” that amounts to “screams of hatred and incitement to violence, and an attempt to set the region on fire for political purposes.”
The United Arab List party leader added that “there is no doubt” that the purpose of the march’s organizers is “to challenge the new government and exhaust it in a series of explosive events in the near future.”
Yaniv Kubovich, Noa Shpigel and Jonathan Lis contributed to this report.