Israeli security forces were on high alert throughout the country Sunday as Palestinians and Israeli Arabs were set to mark Nakba Day — the 74th anniversary of what the Arab world calls the “Nakba” or “catastrophe” surrounding the establishment of Israel.
The Gaza-ruling Hamas terror organization on Saturday warned Israel of a “clash” as it urged Palestinians to flock to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City for Nakba Day.
The “nakba” commemorations focus on 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, in ancient times, Jews who were unable to participate in the religious festival observe it a month later.
The annual event comes as Israel continues to face a wave of terror attacks that have left 19 people dead in Israel and the West Bank since late March. According to the Palestinian Authority health ministry, 30 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops since late March. Some committed violent terror attacks, while others participated in clashes with soldiers, and some appeared to have been unarmed bystanders.
Police were expected to particularly tighten security in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to prevent escalation at the holy site that has been at the center of weeks of tensions and unrest.
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.
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 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.
The Hamas warning also comes amid ongoing tensions between Palestinians and Israel following the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh on Wednesday 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 strained 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 fired 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.
On Saturday Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar paid a visit to the Gaza offices of Al Jazeera.
“Abu Akleh was killed more than once: First when they shot her and the second time with the attempts to prevent the funeral,” Sinwar said during his visit, referring to violent behavior by police at her funeral on Friday for which Israel has faced widespread condemnation.