Gaza terror factions at odds over response to Jerusalem Day march — report

Palestinian terror group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and other terror factions based in the Palestinian enclave, were at odds over how to respond to the expected controversial flag march in Jerusalem on Sunday which is set to take the traditional route through the Muslim Quarter, according to a Saturday television report.

Hamas warned of a “day of anger” in Jerusalem a day ahead of the event, as Palestinian Islamic Jihad warned of an “explosion” if the event goes ahead as planned.

On Sunday, marchers are set to walk along Jaffa Street to Damascus Gate, where access will be blocked for Palestinians. They will continue into the Old City through Hagai Street in the Muslim Quarter and finish at the Western Wall.

Last year, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem during the march, setting off what became an 11-day Gaza-Israel war.

On Saturday afternoon, the Hamas-affiliated Shehab News Agency reported that the terror groups in the Gaza Strip test-fired rockets toward the Mediterranean Sea. According to Palestinian media reports, at least eight rockets were fired.

Hamas and other terror groups in the coastal enclave regularly test rockets toward the sea. Still, Saturday’s launches come amid rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

According to Channel 12 on Sunday, citing Palestinian sources, Hamas is against launching rockets at Israel in response to the Jerusalem march, while Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other smaller factions are in favor.

Israeli officials cited by the Kan public broadcaster said Saturday they do not expect Hamas to escalate the situation but were preparing for the possibility of rocket fire regardless.

Earlier this week, air defense batteries, including Iron Dome, were put on a higher state of alert, and their deployments were adjusted ahead of the march.

Hamas and other groups have threatened to take action.

But senior military officials in the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division told leaders of communities along the border with the Strip that they do not expect an escalation on Jerusalem Day, Channel 13 news reported.

“We are prepared for any scenario, but the expectation is that it will be quiet in the [Gaza] envelope,” a senior officer was quoted as saying according to the network.

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, on May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Defense officials have been sending signals through the media and elsewhere that Israel is not looking for an escalation, but is ready for the possibility of one.

Israel has reportedly passed along messages to Hamas via Egypt and Qatar, warning that it will strike Gaza if the enclave-ruling terror group fires rockets at Israel because of the march.

Last year, Israel ended up changing the traditional route at the last moment as tensions in Jerusalem ran high. Israeli police had clashed repeatedly with Palestinians on the flashpoint Temple Mount holy site during the final days of the Ramadan holy month, leaving hundreds injured. There was also tension surrounding the potential evictions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Jewish men dance with Israeli flags during the March of Flags near Jerusalem’s Old City, June 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli authorities altered the route an hour before the 2021 march was set to be held. Police fanned out across the Old City in an attempt to prevent Israeli marchers from reaching Damascus Gate.

Organizers then declared the cancellation of the event but hundreds of participants streamed into the Old City. Shortly thereafter, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem that led to the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, as well as other Gaza-based terror groups.

This year, march organizers decided to limit the number of participants to traverse the Old City to the Western Wall to 16,000 people, citing concerns about overlarge crowds in the wake of 2021’s Mount Meron Lag B’Omer deadly crush. Half the group will march through the Old City via the Damascus Gate, while the other half will go through Jaffa Gate, likely only skirting the Muslim Quarter.

Police will deploy 3,000 officers to secure the rally.

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