Israel is sending messages to the Hamas terror group via Egypt and Qatar in hopes of keeping tensions from boiling over during a nationalist march through the Old City next week, Channel 13 news reported Tuesday.
This year’s annual nationalistic Jerusalem Day “Flag March” will take place on Sunday.
The parade’s route is fraught, with opponents seeing its procession through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter as a provocation, and supporters seeing it as an expression of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.
Israel has argued in its messaging to Hamas that the route of the march is the same as it has been for years and should not be taken as a casus belli, the network reported.
It also warned that if Hamas shoots rockets or allows other groups to do so, Israel will be ready to hit back at the Gaza Strip, where the terror group is based.
According to Channel 13, the army believes the event can pass peacefully so long as there are no bouts of serious violence and all sides keep their cool.
Earlier, march organizers decided to limit the number of participants to traverse the Old City to the Western Wall to 16,000 people. Half the group will march through the Old City via the Damascus Gate, while the other half will go through Jaffa Gate, likely only skirting the Muslim Quarter.
Israeli authorities have restricted entries to mass gatherings, including at the Western Wall, after a stampede in Mount Meron in northern Israel killed 45 people last year. The crush at the holy site during the Lag B’Omer holiday festivities was Israel’s worst-ever peacetime disaster.
Jerusalem has been on edge ahead of the parade, mainly due to tensions surrounding the Temple Mount holy site.
Last year, the route was changed at the last minute in a bid to avoid conflagration, but the change did not prevent Hamas from firing rockets at Jerusalem, sparking an 11-day conflict.
Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s capture of the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, is celebrated by national-religious Jews, most prominently by youths who march through the capital, while dancing with Israeli flags. Palestinians have long viewed the march as a provocation.
This year’s march comes during roiling tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. Since March 22, a wave of deadly terror attacks has struck Israeli cities, killing 19 — the bloodiest violence outside of war in years.
Israeli counter-raids in the West Bank left at least 30 Palestinians dead over the same period. Many were gunmen involved in firefights with Israeli soldiers or took part in violent clashes. Others were apparently uninvolved civilians, such as Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in disputed circumstances during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen two weeks ago in Jenin, sparking an international outcry.
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on Monday defended his recommendation to allow the march to go through predominantly Palestinian areas of the Old City as maintaining “the freedom of worship, protest, and expression, for everyone.”