Nearly 50,000 Israeli radicals march through Jerusalem’s Muslim quarter amid tension | International
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Tens of thousands of ultranationalist Jews (50,000, according to the police) have marched this Sunday through the Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, which houses the holy places of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The controversial parade with Israeli flags, which each year commemorates the taking of East Jerusalem by the army in the Six-Day War of 1967 to form the unique capital of Israel, is seen as a provocation by the Palestinians, who aspire to make that part of the Holy City to be the capital of his future State. The police deployed more than 3,000 agents in the center of Jerusalem and mobilized reinforcement battalions with hundreds of border agents and reservists from that militarized body. Despite the massive presence of security forces, more than 40 Palestinians were injured in clashes, the Red Crescent reported, and 50 were arrested.
The Armed Forces placed batteries of the Iron Dome anti-missile shield around the city in the face of the threat of Hamas to launch reprisals if the radical demonstrators broke into the Al Aqsa mosque, the third sacred place of Islam. A year ago, the Islamist movement’s militia fired a barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip in the direction of Jerusalem, an armed action that triggered an open war that lasted for 11 days in the coastal enclave and in which more than 260 were killed. Palestinians, including 67 children, as well as 13 people in Israeli territory.
The first incidents broke out at dawn, after the first prayer of the day, when dozens of young Palestinians threw stones and firecrackers at the more than 2,500 Israelis who were visiting the Esplanade of the Mosques, a figure with hardly any precedent, while waving Israeli flags, escorted by a large police force. Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al Aqsa Mosque, whose doors were blocked by security forces, who also fired stun grenades.
The Israeli Prime Minister, the ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennett, authorized the march to the Wailing Wall (Judaism’s first place of worship, located at the foot of the Esplanade of the Mosques) through the Damascus Gate, the main access to the Arab neighborhood in the walled area of the Old City, despite warnings from the United States and European and Arab countries. “The March of the Flags will continue its usual course, as it has for decades. Waving the flag in the capital of Israel is something perfectly acceptable,” the head of government’s personal cabinet reported in a statement, which also announced that visits by Israelis to the Temple Mount (the Esplanade of the Mosques, according to the Jewish tradition) were not to be restricted.
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Hamas leader Ismail Haniya called on Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and those living in Israel (20% of the population) to remain “in a state of high alert” and “rise in defense of Al Aqsa ” following the incidents in the Old City in April, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The cabinet of the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, also decreed an alert before the march of tens of thousands of Israeli radicals.
Some partners in the Israeli government coalition, which includes everything from ultra-conservatives to the anti-war left and an Arab party, have expressed concern that the March of Flags risks reigniting tension a year after the last conflict with the Palestinians in Gaza. For this reason, they demanded that their route be diverted. During the parade, the Palestinian shops and premises where the demonstrators passed were closed. Some extremist groups chanted slogans such as “Death to the Arabs!” and “Your houses are going to burn.” A Palestinian who displayed a Palestinian flag was beaten by protesters at Damascus Gate, where an Israeli armed with a pistol pointed it at several people. A Palestinian woman was also attacked with pepper spray in the Muslim quarter, sparking a brawl with throwing of bottles and chairs.
Two weeks ago, the funeral in Jerusalem of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, shot dead during an Israeli military intervention in the West Bank, was disrupted by a violent charge by security forces against the funeral procession. Since then the tension has been latent in the Holy City. Hamas has recently emerged as a defender of the Palestinian character of Jerusalem. In a statement, its leaders have held the Israeli government responsible for the consequences of its policy in East Jerusalem. In clashes in the West Bank with Israeli soldiers, more than 30 Palestinians were injured, according to health sources cited by Reuters. The area around Damascus Gate was sealed off by several circles of police checkpoints, barring Muslim Palestinians from entering their own district in the Old City.
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