Jerusalem on edge ahead of controversial Israeli flag march

Flag-waving Jewish nationalists are due to march through the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City’s Muslim Quarter on Sunday in a parade that could reignite violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

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The annual Jerusalem Procession celebrates Israel’s capture of the Old City in the 1967 Middle East War and draws thousands of jubilant and chanting participants through its narrow stone streets.

But for Palestinians, the march is a blatant provocation and violation of one of the few places in the city, increasingly landlocked by Jewish development and settlement, that retains a strong Arab flavor.

Hamas, the group that rules the Gaza Strip, fired rockets into Israel at the start of the procession last year, sparking an 11-day war that left hundreds dead.

On Saturday, the group released a statement calling on Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as Israel’s Arab minority – who are of Palestinian descent and Israeli citizenship – to “stand up on Sunday in defense of Jerusalem et al. -Aqsa Mosque.”

Signs of unrest were seen early in the day as Israeli police deployed near the mosque and Muslim worshipers ended morning prayers.

A police spokesman said a small group of people had barricaded themselves inside the mosque and were throwing large rocks at officers posted outside. No injuries were reported.

But despite calls to rethink the march from some of his own coalition allies, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett refused to endorse any changes.

“The flag parade will proceed as usual along the planned route, as it has for decades,” his office said on Friday, adding that it would review the situation regularly over the next few hours.

Jerusalem and its holy sites, revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians, are at the heart of decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel sees all of Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern part as the capital of their future state. Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by Western governments, considers all of modern Israel to be occupied.

Tension has been mounting in the city for weeks.

Repeated clashes took place between Palestinians and Israeli police at al-Aqsa compound in April, during the holy month of Ramadan, as Muslims angered the growing number of Jewish visitors to the mosque’s compound .

Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount – a remnant of the two ancient temples of their faith.

Sunday’s march is due to culminate at the Western Wall, a Jewish prayer site that sits beneath the al-Aqsa mosques.

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