Palestinian terror group Hamas and other terror factions based in the Palestinian enclave are reportedly at odds over how to respond to the annual Jerusalem Day flag march through the Muslim Quarter Sunday.
According to a Channel 12 report on Saturday night, citing Palestinian sources, Hamas is against launching rockets at Israel in response to the religious-nationalist march, while Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other smaller factions are in favor.
Israeli officials cited by the Kan public broadcaster said Saturday they did not expect Hamas to escalate the situation but were preparing for the possibility of rocket fire regardless.
Hamas has called for a “day of anger” in Jerusalem while Palestinian Islamic Jihad warned of an “explosion” if the event goes ahead as planned.
On Sunday afternoon, marchers are set to walk along Jaffa Street to Damascus Gate, where access will be blocked for Palestinians. They will continue into the Old City through Hagai Street in the Muslim Quarter and finish at the Western Wall.
Last year, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem during the march, setting off what became an 11-day Gaza-Israel war.
On Saturday afternoon, the Hamas-affiliated Shehab News Agency reported that the terror groups in the Gaza Strip test-fired rockets toward the Mediterranean Sea. According to Palestinian media reports, at least eight rockets were fired.
Earlier this week, Israeli air defense systems, including Iron Dome batteries, were put on a higher state of alert. On Saturday night, the IDF bolstered Iron Dome deployments across the country.
Senior officials in the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division told leaders of communities along the border with the Strip that they do not expect an escalation on Jerusalem Day, Channel 13 news reported.
“We are prepared for any scenario, but the expectation is that it will be quiet in the [Gaza] envelope,” a senior officer was quoted as saying.
Defense officials have been sending signals through the media and elsewhere that Israel is not looking for an escalation, but is ready for the possibility of one.
Israel has reportedly passed along messages to Hamas via Egypt and Qatar, warning that it will strike Gaza if the enclave-ruling terror group fires rockets at Israel because of the march.
Last year, Israel ended up changing the traditional route at the last moment as tensions in Jerusalem ran high. Israeli police had clashed repeatedly with Palestinians on the flashpoint Temple Mount holy site during the final days of the Ramadan holy month, leaving hundreds injured. There was also tension surrounding the potential evictions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
Israeli authorities altered the route an hour before the march began and police fanned out across the Old City in an attempt to prevent Israeli marchers from reaching Damascus Gate. Organizers then declared the cancellation of the event but hundreds of participants streamed into the Old City. Shortly thereafter, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem, starting what became an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups.
This year, march organizers decided to limit the number of participants to traverse the Old City to the Western Wall to 16,000 people, citing concerns about overlarge crowds in the wake of 2021’s Mount Meron Lag B’Omer deadly crush. Half the group are set to march through the Old City via the Damascus Gate, while the other half will go through Jaffa Gate, likely only skirting the Muslim Quarter.
Police will deploy 3,000 officers to secure the rally.