JERUSALEM | Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, parade of Israelis waving national flags, police on alert. Tension is high on Sunday in Jerusalem for the "march of flags" marking the conquest of the eastern part of the Holy City by Israel.
In the morning, a few hours before the march which started at 1:00 p.m. GMT (4:00 p.m. local time), the tenor of the Israeli far right Itamar Ben Gvir went to the esplanade of the Mosques, a holy place at the heart of Israeli-Palestinian tensions. in the Old City in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian part occupied since 1967 by Israel.
This third holiest site in Islam is also the holiest site in Judaism under its name of “Temple Mount”.
"I have come to support the security forces and I expect the police to bring order to the Temple Mount...I have come today to affirm that we, the State of Israel , we are sovereign here”, he launched.
Under a historical status quo, non-Muslims can go to the esplanade, entering through a single door and at specific times, but cannot pray there. However, in recent years a growing number of Jews, often nationalists, surreptitiously pray there, a gesture denounced as a “provocation” by the Palestinians.
About 1,800 non-Muslims, mostly tourists but also Israelis, visited the esplanade on Sunday, police said.
Stones were thrown by Palestinians at Israeli forces controlling access to the holy site, witnesses said.
Face to face
At Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Muslim quarter of the Old City, brief clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police broke out and several Palestinians were arrested, according to an AFP photographer on the spot.
According to the authorities, the march follows the planned route, "as it has been the case for decades", that is to say passing through the Old City via the Damascus Gate, but without making a detour by the esplanade of the Mosques.
The majority of traders have closed shop in the Muslim quarter and residents have stayed at home. In the street, dozens of young nationalist Jews sang and danced while waving Israeli flags, an AFP journalist noted.
"Did you see that? There is no respect. If the shops are closed it is not that we are afraid but because we know that there will be no customers today (…)”, launched Sami, a trader.
Facing the Israelis, some demonstrators waved Palestinian flags.
“It is natural to wave the flag of Israel in the capital of Israel (…) but I ask the participants of the march to respect the instructions of the police,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday.
Police on alert
Fearing slippages, the police mobilized 3,000 officers for the march of "Yom Yerushalaim" or "Jerusalem Day", which marks for Israel the "reunification" of the Holy City, after the occupation and annexation of its Eastern part.
The Palestinians aspire to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future state.
Last year, on the day scheduled for the “march of flags” according to the Hebrew calendar and after days of Israeli-Palestinian violence in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian movement Hamas in power in Gaza launched volleys of rockets into Israel , a prelude to an 11-day war between the two camps.
This year, Palestinian groups have again threatened to “respond” in the event of violence during the march, or even if participants go to the esplanade.
"We will not hesitate to use all possible means (...) Israel will pay a high price," warned Saturday Ghazi Hamad, a figure of the Islamist Hamas.
But according to Shlomo Mofaz, security analyst and former high-ranking Israeli military intelligence, "Hamas has no interest in embarking on a new war (...) because it focuses on the reconstruction of Gaza".
Nonetheless, he notes, violence with Palestinian injuries or deaths could spur him, or other Palestinian groups like Islamic Jihad, into action. And to add: "perhaps" that Iran, a supporter of these groups and an enemy of Israel, "will encourage (them) to break the routine" and launch rockets at Israel.
The UN's chief mediator for the Middle East, Tor Wennesland, urged Palestinians and Israelis to avoid "further escalation".