The Gaza-ruling Hamas terror organization on Saturday warned Israel of a “clash” as it urged Palestinians to flock in mass to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City for Nakba Day on Sunday.
May 15 marks the 74th anniversary of what the Arab world calls the “Nakba” or “catastrophe” surrounding the establishment of Israel, referring to the displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the Israel’s War of Independence in 1948-1949.
This year, Nakba Day coincides with Pesach Sheni, or Second Passover, during which Jews who were unable to participate in the religious festival observe it a month later.
Appearing to respond to calls on social media by Temple Mount activists for Jews to visit the holy site on Sunday, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem warned of a “clash” for which he said the “Zionist occupier” would be responsible.
“The extremist statements calling on [Jews] to storm the Al-Aqsa Mosque tomorrow on Nakba Day and the approval of the ‘occupation forces’ to do so are a dangerous escalation that constitutes a provocation toward our people and our feelings that will lead to a clash that the ‘Zionist occupier’ will be held responsible for,” the spokesman warned in a statement.
“We call on the masses of our people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and occupied Israel to come to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and foil the occupation’s evil plans,” he added.
The warning following weeks of increased tensions and frequent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the capital, with Passover, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Christian holiday of Easter all intersecting last month.
Under the prevailing status quo at the Temple Mount, Muslims are allowed to visit and pray at the site, while Jews are only allowed to visit during limited time slots and cannot pray. The site is the most sacred place for Jews as the location of the biblical temples, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the Temple Mount, is the third-holiest site for Muslims.
During Passover in April, a plan by Jewish extremists to sacrifice a goat at the Temple Mount roiled Palestinians and was stopped by police, who have repeatedly reiterated their commitment to maintaining the status quo at the flashpoint site.
In an attempt to limit clashes in the Temple Mount compound last month, Israel barred non-Muslims from visiting the Temple Mount during the last roughly ten days of Ramadan, a policy that has been in place for years.
Israel has also highlighted a campaign of incitement led by Hamas and other extremist groups that falsely claim Israel aims to violate the status quo at the Temple Mount.
The Hamas warning also comes amid ongoing tensions between Palestinians and Israel following the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh earlier this week in the northern West Bank city of Jenin amid clashes between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli forces during an Israeli arrest raid. Palestinians blame Israel, which has said it remains unclear who fired the shot that killed her.
Abu Akleh’s death has further hindered an already shaky relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with the latter refusing to hold a joint investigation with Israel and rejecting its request to share findings from the reporter’s autopsy, which may prove vital in finding out who shot the fatal bullet.
An interim report issued by the IDF earlier on Friday set out two likely scenarios regarding who fired the fatal shot — an instance of Palestinian terrorists’ gunfire and of Israeli sniper fire — in neither of which Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted.
Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs head Hussein al-Sheikh said Saturday that scenes of violence at Abu Akleh’s funeral the previous day reinforced the belief of Palestinian officials that there should not be a joint investigation with Israel.
Scenes of Israeli police rushing participants in the funeral of Abu Akleh, using force against Palestinians who were carrying her casket outside a Jerusalem hospital and nearly toppling it, have drawn widespread condemnation. Police, who have said that officers intervened after “rioters” seized her coffin at the hospital against her family’s wishes, announced Saturday the launch of an investigation.
Also Friday, police commando Noam Raz from the elite counter-terrorism Yamam unit was killed during an Israeli arrest operation in the Jenin area. He was the first Yamam officer to die in action since 2011.