The Israeli military has deployed Iron Dome air defense batteries and raised its level of alert ahead of the Jerusalem Flag March on Tuesday, as Hamas says it would respond to the right-wing march if it goes through as planned, potentially with rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
Omer Bar-Lev, the newly sworn-in public security minister, decided on Monday evening, after a meeting with Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and representatives of several Israeli defense agencies, to let the march go on as planned.
"I was under the impression that the police is well prepared and that a great effort has been made to safeguard the delicate fabric of life and public safety," Bar-Lev said in a statement.
Hamas warned Israel that the march will renew unrest, less than a month after the two sides reached a cease-fire following 11 days of fighting in Gaza.
"We are calling on Palestinians in Jerusalem and within the Green Line to halt the march tomorrow," said Hamas spokesman Abdulatif al-Qanua on Monday. He dubbed the march, in which right-wing groups parade through the Old City carrying Israeli flags, a "fuse for a new explosion for the protection of the al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem."
According to a Monday report on Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, Hamas leadership told Abbas Kamel, the head Egyptian intelligence who was heavily involved in mediating last month’s cease-fire with Israel, that the organization's response to the march would be “identical” to its actions in May, when rockets were fired at Jerusalem.
The report also said the group’s military wing has been ordered to stand by, but any action would “depend on Israel’s conduct.”
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The organizers of the Jerusalem Flag March reached an agreement with the Israel Police on Friday to allow for a march to take place on Tuesday. It had been planned for last Thursday, but was canceled after organizers and police failed to agree on a route over police fears that the march would reignite tensions and lead to riots in the city by passing through Palestinian areas.
The march was originally scheduled, as per tradition, for Israel's Jerusalem Day last month, and was diverted due to security concerns as clashes between police and Palestinians in the city intensified. It was dispersed shortly after it began, after tensions peaked and Hamas fired rockets from Gaza.
The march planned for Tuesday will proceed down Sultan Suleiman road before arriving at the Damascus Gate, a flashpoint of tensions between Palestinians and police in recent months. An Israeli flag dance will be held at the plaza in front of the gate. The marchers, however, will not enter the Old City through the Damascus Gate and the gate will be closed off.
From the Damascus Gate, marchers will pass through the Jaffa Gate and head toward the Western Wall through peripheral areas of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Part of the route will be detoured through the Jewish Quarter due to security concerns and to prevent overcrowding.
The organizers of the march said, "We thank the Israel Police, police commissioner, and Jerusalem District from their cooperation and are happy that Israeli flags will be flown with pride in all parts of the Old City."
The organizers added, "We call on all citizens of Israel to join us this Tuesday with Israeli flags, to praise Israeli heroism and dance with joy in Jerusalem."
The change to the parade route came after Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman refused to allow the march to pass through the Damascus Gate, or the center of the Muslim quarter. Turgeman said that under no circumstances would he approve the route originally requested by the organizers, fearing that the march would incite riots throughout the Old City.
The deputy head of Hamas in Gaza, Khalil al-Hayya, issued a warning to Israel on Thursday night, warning that if "settler extremism" and the Flag March aren't reigned in, the "fragile cease-fire could explode."
Hamas' military wing said it' is "closely following the provocative and aggressive actions by the usurpers and their leaders in Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. We warn against harming Al-Aqsa, and salute her free defenders in Jerusalem."
Last month, Israeli security forces clashed repeatedly with Palestinians near and in the Al-Aqsa mosque, leaving hundreds of Palestinians injured.
Security officials say that the situation in the Gaza Strip is still very sensitive, and that the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, is looking for an excuse to escalate tensions with Israel – and may find one in the events in Jerusalem.