The Hamas terror group warned on Monday that a contentious march by Jewish ultranationalists through parts of Jerusalem’s Old City on Tuesday could spark a regional war, as Israel’s new police minister said there were no plans to scrap the event.
“The flags march is like an explosive that will cause a new campaign to protect Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque to ignite,” Hamas spokesperson Abd al-Latif Qanou said in a statement.
The group also called on Palestinians to “confront Israeli settlers” during the march. “The nation and the resistance are behind you in the effort to thwart the plans of occupation,” Qanou said.
The march, rescheduled after the original event on Jerusalem Day, May 10, was stopped short by Hamas rocket fire at Jerusalem, is expected to be the first major test faced by Israel’s new government, which was sworn in on Sunday.
The May 10 attack, which came amid already rising tensions over planned East Jerusalem home evictions and police actions against Muslim rioters on the Temple Mount, touched off 11 days of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas-led terrorists in the Gaza Strip, as well as a rash of lower-level clashes in the West Bank and mob violence between Arabs and Jews inside Israel.
Since the fighting ended, Hamas has repeatedly warned that it could reopen hostilities over developments in Jerusalem, and has responded with increased belligerence to plans for the march, an annual event — held to mark Israel’s 1967 capture of East Jerusalem — during which thousands of nationalist youths parade through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City toward the Western Wall.
In an interview published Monday with Hamas mouthpiece Shehab, top Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar warned that his group would respond to any perceived Israeli crime, but also indicated that it would not shoot from the hip.
“We have passed the stage of understanding their crimes against our people or being silent about them,” he said, but added that “our steps must also be disciplined and governed by the public interest, and we must preserve our weapons so that we can fully utilize them” in future fighting.
Hamas’s warnings appeared to hinge on whether or not the march would pass through the Damascus Gate and into the heart of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
While the route of the march usually does pass through the Damascus Gate, police have ordered that it be changed so that marchers enter the Old City through the Jaffa Gate instead, passing the outside of the Damascus Gate on their way there.
Other Gaza-based terror groups issued threats as well.
The so-called balloon unit, Ibna al-Zuwari, announced Monday that it would resume launching balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel from Tuesday morning.
“Our patience has run out,” the group said in a statement.
For the past three years, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, mostly linked to Hamas and other terror groups, have launched thousands of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel, causing widespread fires and significant damage to agricultural fields, nature reserves, and private property.
Since the ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas terror group took effect on May 20, there has been one such fire. However, there was no claim from any of the Gaza-based balloon units for the apparent violation of the ceasefire.
The Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, also warned against allowing the flag parade to take place.
“You have an example of the battle of the sword of Jerusalem, so consider it before it is too late,” the group said in a statement, using the Palestinian terror group’s name for the recent 11-day war.
Meanwhile, new Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said Monday that the march will proceed as scheduled, following a meeting with Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai on preparations for the march.
“I am under the impression that the police are well prepared and that a great effort has been made to maintain the delicate fabric of life, and public safety,” Barlev said.
Prior to the meeting, Barlev said that “in a democracy, it is allowed and important to demonstrate within the confines of the law,” adding that “we will operate according to the recommendations of the police.”
Opposing the planned march, the Arab-majority Joint List party issued a letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Barlev, requesting to have the event canceled entirely. “We warn that this incident will likely reignite the region and will lead to violence and a dangerous escalation,” the party wrote.
On Saturday, Kan reported that security officials assessed that Hamas would not respond to the repeat march with rocket fire, but might try launching incendiary balloons from Gaza or initiating terror attacks in the West Bank.
A security source quoted by Walla news said that the IDF would bolster forces at potential conflict areas along the security barrier around Jerusalem and in the West Bank, fearing terror attacks and lower-level violence, such as stone-throwing attacks.
At the same time, the IDF bolstered the Iron Dome missile defense system, but assessed that the Gaza-based terror groups would likely not fire rockets in response to the parade.
The rescheduled event was initially planned for last Thursday, but was postponed to this Tuesday when police refused to authorize its planned route through the Old City’s Damascus Gate entrance and Muslim Quarter.
On Thursday, clashes broke out between East Jerusalem protesters and Israeli police, as far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir marched to Damascus Gate. Ben Gvir waved an Israeli flag at the site, in what he said was a personal protest after police banned him from parading through the Muslim Quarter to reach the Temple Mount. Ben Gvir had tried to organize his parade as a protest to the postponement of the flag march to this week.
After Ben Gvir’s visit, and amid the rioting that followed, the Hamas military wing issued a statement saying that it was watching developments closely.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.