Tensions rose high in the occupied Palestinian territories on Tuesday as Israeli nationalists rallied for a controversial march through East Jerusalem.
The so-called March of the Flags celebrates the anniversary of the Israeli occupation in 1967 of the eastern part of the city.
“The right to demonstrate is a right in all democracies,” said Israeli Homeland Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev. “The police are ready and we will do everything in our power to preserve the delicate thread of coexistence.”
The Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem by the 1967 Six-Day War is not recognized by most of the international community, which says 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.
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“Clear provocation,” says the Israeli councilor
Laura Wharton, a councilor on the Jerusalem City Council, told the Associated Press that she considered the planned march to be “completely ridiculous”.
“It’s a clear provocation from right-wing extremists who are dissatisfied with the government, dissatisfied with many things, and have to vent their frustrations on Old City residents,” Wharton said.
The march puts an initial test for the fragile new Israeli government, which was sworn in on Sunday and includes parties from across the political spectrum.
The cancellation of the march would have opened Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other members of the coalition’s right to intense criticism from those who saw it as a capitulation to Hamas rulers in Gaza.
The Iron Dome defense system prepared in southern Israel
The batteries of the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system could be seen in southern Israel, as the army deployed them amid heightened tensions with the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
The decision of the new Israeli government to grant approval for the disputed parade of Israeli nationalists through Palestinian areas around the Old City of Jerusalem raises the possibility of rescheduling clashes a few weeks after an 11-day war with Hamas.
“Palestinians are very angry”
Hussein Nasser Ed Din, 35, of Shuafat in occupied East Jerusalem said there could be major problems if more people gather at the Damascus Gate to confront Israeli marchers.
But he said a lot of police are present, so they prevent people from coming. Most of the problems will be in the Old City, the logistics officer suggested with local media.
“The Palestinians are very angry. People are scared to lose their homes with it forced expulsions and demolition, ”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 take over our land and take over 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 settlers? He asked.
Israel employs thousands more police before March
Israeli police have said they will deploy 2,000 forces to provide protection to participants in the planned “flag march” across occupied East Jerusalem.
According to the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation, police forces will be deployed in the vicinity of routes that participants take during the march.
The broadcaster said Israeli police have also decided to strengthen their presence in mixed cities in Israel in anticipation of the violence.
“All options on the table,” warns Hamas
When the march was initially announced for last week, another Hamas official, Khalil Hayya, warned that it could provoke a return to violence that killed more than 256 people 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 to appeal to them “not to engage in a military escalation on the basis of the march”.
“However, all the options remain on the table,” Hamadeh said.
Last month’s conflict began after Hamas issued a deadline for Israel to expel its forces from the fire zones of East Jerusalem, and then fired a barrage of raids on Israel when the ultimatum was ignored.
Israeli settlers begin to rally for the nationalist march
Israeli settlers began arriving at noon while being escorted by police in civilian clothes.
Heavily armed paramilitary border police and other forces patrolled the city’s streets, installed checkpoints and blocked roads throughout East Jerusalem.
Iron barriers were placed outside the entrance to the Damascus Gate, where Palestinians were said to have gathered to confront the Israelis.
Young Palestinian men stood at the corner of the streets to watch, and Palestinian landowners began to close their businesses. Anti-march protests were planned against the march after the noon prayers.
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound early in the morning to prevent settlers from trying to enter. Bus loads are coming from the interior of Israel.
Activists say that if Israeli settlers stay away from the compound, the clashes will be less intense. Groups of young boys chanted slogans and refused to leave while police were nearby.