Hamas warned late Sunday that it could still respond to the Flag March through Jerusalem’s Old City, saying it would do so “at the right time.”
Last year, the Gaza-ruling terror group fired rockets at Jerusalem during the annual parade, sparking an 11-day conflict with Israel.
Hamas spokesman Mohammad Hamada told the Al Jazeera network that even though Hamas had not reacted to the march this year, a violent response was still possible.
“The resistance will decide how and when to respond in accordance to the information it has and at the right time,” he said.
Some 70,000 Jewish nationalists marched through and around Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday afternoon to mark Jerusalem Day, some of them chanting racist slogans and clashing with Palestinians and police.
“We condemn incitement to violence and racism in all its forms,” a spokesperson for the US State Department said in response to the march and the chants. “We urge all parties to work to maintain calm, exercise restraint, and refrain from actions and rhetoric that escalate tensions, including in Jerusalem’s Old City.”
Before the march, more than 2,600 Jewish Israelis were granted entry to the Temple Mount, a record-breaking figure. The holy site — Judaism’s most sacred sanctuary and Islam’s third-holiest — is a deeply contested flashpoint between Jews and Muslims. Hundreds had arrived early in the morning to wait for a chance to tour the sanctuary. Among the visitors was far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir.
Prior to the arrival of the Jewish visitors, dozens of Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque and hurled rocks at security forces stationed outside.
According to police, 18 people were arrested on suspicion of rioting and assaulting officers and civilians during the Temple Mount visit.
In apparent violations of the so-called status quo, several Jewish visitors who visited the mount raised Israeli flags and others said prayers. The Hamas terror group had previously signaled that the waving of the Israeli flag at the holy site, which includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque, could trigger a violent response.
The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, is the holiest site for Jews and site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam.
It is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and tensions there helped ignite the 11-day Gaza war in May last year that was triggered into open conflict when Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem during the Flag March.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said that it was crucial that the march went ahead in the face of threats from Palestinian terror groups. The Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah had also issued threats.
“The decision that the march would go ahead as planned this year was correct and unstoppable,” said Barlev late Sunday. “Even if the terror organizations try and challenge us, it is totally clear that surrender to their threats would lead to much more serious situations, with serious harm to our deterrence capabilities and to our sovereignty.”
“With the exception of a few isolated incidents, the event in Jerusalem passed as planned,” Barlev said.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sought to highlight the positive message of the day and vowed Israel would never divide Jerusalem again.
“We vow again today, we will never give up on the unity of Jerusalem and never give up on the unity of Israel,” Bennett said speaking at the main Jerusalem Day event.
Despite being a national holiday, Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s conquest of the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, is celebrated nowadays mainly by right-wing religious Jews.
Meanwhile, the opposition Likud party accused Bennett and the government of trying to claim credit for deterring Hamas, which they said was actually down to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“He’s boasting about the deterrence that was achieved by the Netanyahu government against Hamas, which he had no part in. Netanyahu ordered the IDF to hit Hamas harder than it had ever been hit before,” a Likud statement said, referring to the IDF response to the rocket fire.
The war came in the final days of Netanyahu’s administration before the coalition government headed by Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid took power.
“After it was hit so hard, this year it has not dared fire even one rocket,” the Likud statement said.
There have been several instances of rocket fire at Israel over the last year from Gaza.