Tensions were high in the occupied Palestinian territories on Tuesday as Israeli nationalists gathered for a controversial march through East Jerusalem.
The so-called March of the Flags celebrates the anniversary of Israel’s 1967 occupation of the city’s eastern sector.
“The right to demonstrate is a right in all democracies,” said Israel’s Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev. “The police is ready and we will do everything in our power to preserve the delicate thread of coexistence.”
Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem since the Six-Day War of 1967 is not recognised by most of the international community, which says the city’s final status should be a matter of negotiation between the two sides.
The Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
Here are the latest updates:
Palestinians launch incendiary balloons into Israel over march
Palestinian activists launched incendiary balloons and kites from the Gaza Strip towards areas in southern Israel.
“The kites are in response to the provocative flag march in East Jerusalem on Tuesday,” a Palestinian activist who identified himself as Abu Houzayfa told Anadolu Agency.
The incendiary balloons or kites contain flammable material or oil-soaked rags that may ignite fires once they land on crops.
Israeli police seal off Damascus Gate
Palestinian media reported that Israeli police forces prevented Palestinians from reaching Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Videos posted on social media showed Israeli police installing metal barricades as Palestinians were blocked from going through the barriers.
الاحتلال يمنع الأهالي الوصول لباب العامود هذه الأثناء pic.twitter.com/eeA1HE0nR4
— AlQastal القسطل (@AlQastalps) June 15, 2021
Translation: Israeli forces prevent Palestinians from reaching Damascus Gate.
‘Clear provocation’, says Israeli councillor
Laura Wharton, councilwoman in the Jerusalem City Council, told the Associated Press that she considered the planned march “completely ridiculous.”
“It’s a clear provocation of extreme right wingers who are dissatisfied with the government, dissatisfied with a lot of things, and are going to vent their frustrations on the residents of the Old City,” said Wharton.
The march poses an early test for Israel’s fragile new government, which was sworn in on Sunday and includes parties from across the political spectrum.
Cancelling the march would have opened Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other right-wing members of the coalition to intense criticism from those who would view it as a capitulation to Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Iron Dome defence system readied in Israel’s south
Iron Dome missile defense system batteries could be seen in Israel’s south, as the army deployed them amid heightened tensions with Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
The decision by Israel’s new government to grant approval for the contentious parade by Israeli nationalists through Palestinian areas around Jerusalem’s Old City raises the possibility of renewed confrontations just weeks after an 11-day assault on Gaza by Israel.
‘Palestinians are very angry’
Hussein Nasser Ed Din, 35, from Shuafat in occupied East Jerusalem said there could be major problems if more people congregate at Damascus Gate to confront the Israel marchers.
But he said lots of police are present so they will prevent people from arriving. Most of the problems will be in the Old City, the logistics officer with local media suggested.
“Palestinians are very angry. People are terrified of losing their homes with the forced expulsions and demolitions,” Eddin told Al Jazeera.
Khalid Alian, 26, from Jabal al-Mukaber also denounced Israeli settlers for forcing Palestinians out of their homes.
“This is our land and the settlers are taking our land and taking our future and dreams away. Eight of my friends were killed by Israeli soldiers. If you had documents proving ownership of your land, how would you feel if you were thrown out to make way for settlers?” he asked.
Israel deploys thousands of extra police ahead of march
Israeli police said it will deploy 2,000 forces to provide protection for participants in the planned “flag march” across occupied East Jerusalem.
According to the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation, the police forces will be deployed in the vicinity of the routes that the participants will take during the march.
The broadcaster said Israeli police also decided to reinforce their presence in the mixed cities inside Israel in anticipation of violence.
‘All options on the table,’ warns Hamas
When the march was originally announced for last week, senior Hamas official Khalil Hayya warned it could spark a return to violence that killed more than 256 people in Gaza and 11 in Israel last month.
Hamas spokesman Mohammed Hamadeh said mediators had been in contact with Palestinian armed groups in recent days to appeal to them “not to engage in a military escalation on the basis of the march”.
“All options remain on the table, however,” said Hamadeh.
Last month’s conflict started after Hamas issued a deadline for Israel to remove its forces from flashpoint areas of East Jerusalem, and then fired a salvo of rockets at Israel when the ultimatum went unheeded.
Israeli settlers begin to gather for nationalist march
Israeli settlers began arriving midday while being escorted by plainclothes police.
Heavily armed paramilitary border police and other forces patrolled the streets of the city, set up checkpoints, and blocked off roads throughout East Jerusalem.
Iron barriers were placed outside the entrance to Damascus Gate, where Palestinians said they would gather to confront the Israelis.
Young Palestinian men stood on street corners watching, and Palestinian shop owners started to close their businesses. Anti-march protests were expected against the march after midday prayers.
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered inside Al-Aqsa Mosque compound since the morning to prevent settlers from trying to enter. Bus loads came from inside Israel.
Activists say if the Israeli settlers stay away from the compound the clashes will be less intense. Groups of young boys chanted slogans and refused to move away as police stood nearby.