Israel has reportedly passed along a message to Hamas, warning the Palestinian terror group against targeting the country over the controversial Flag March through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City next week.
Any provocation from Gaza terror groups will be met with a severe Israeli response, Jerusalem has warned Hamas through Egyptian mediators, Channel 12 news reported Monday.
On Sunday, Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif al-Qanou issued a statement warning that the Gaza-based terror group would not let Israel “Judaize” Jerusalem via the May 18 Flag March.
Al-Qanou said in a statement that Jerusalem “will remain the Palestinian capital” and that the Gaza-based group “will not allow the Zionist occupation to implement plans to Judaize the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the city of Jerusalem through division… or flag parades.”
“The flag parade in Jerusalem will not change the reality, we will maintain the ‘equation’ as imposed by the resistance,” he said, in reference to Palestinian groups that have in the past responded to events in Jerusalem and on the flashpoint Temple Mount site with rockets from Gaza.
Separately on Monday, Channel 13 news published recordings of a meeting Temple Mount activists held with police officials in which they requested that the Flag March route be expanded to include a lap around the flashpoint holy site. The request was quickly denied by police, who appeared to have leaked the recording in order to demonstrate the degree of pressure they are under as the rally looms.
The heavily guarded Jerusalem Day Flag March has become an increasingly combustible issue for Israel, drawing tens of thousands of national religious youth to mark the anniversary of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War.
The annual event drives fears of aggravated tensions with Palestinians. Two years ago, the march played a role in touching off a brief war with Gaza-based terrorists, and last year, it saw sporadic clashes and hundreds of participants were filmed chanting “Death to Arabs” and other racist and Islamophobic slogans.
On Friday, a senior Israeli official confirmed to The Times of Israel that this year’s march would be held along its original route, despite concerns about a possible escalation.
A Channel 12 report on Friday cited the current government’s lack of political maneuverability on the issue: moving the route — when former prime minister Naftali Bennett left it in place last year — would harm its image as an authentic right-wing alternative to the previous government it relentlessly lambasted.
In the past two years, US President Joe Biden’s administration has urged Israel to change the route of the march to go through the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, instead of the Damascus Gate, and thus skirting the Muslim Quarter, which is largely populated by Palestinians.
But right-wing and religious nationalist groups insist that the original route be maintained as has been the case for decades, in what is meant to signify Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem.
In 2021, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to reroute the Flag March away from the Muslim Quarter, though he waited until hours before the rally to make the decision, allowing threats against Israel from Hamas and other terror groups to pile up in the meantime. Despite the decision, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem as the rerouted march was taking place. Shortly thereafter, the IDF launched Operation Guardian of the Walls in Gaza, which lasted 11 days.
The next year, Bennett came under similar pressure from the US, but ultimately decided to allow the march to go forward on the original route, which led to the globally-criticized scenes of participants singing “May your village burn” as they danced outside the Damascus Gate. However, terror groups in Gaza largely avoided responding in the way they had a year earlier.
While Channel 12 did not cite a source for any of its reporting Monday, it said the security establishment had not received any intelligence alerts against the holding of the Flag March along its original route this year.
The senior official speaking to The Times of Israel clarified that additional security consultations would be held on the matter before a final decision is made. A senior US official told The Times of Israel last week that the issue was already on the Biden administration’s radar.