Israeli ultranationalists march through East Jerusalem in important test for new government


More than a thousand ultra-nationalist protesters carrying Israeli flags poured into Jerusalem’s Old City on Tuesday in a march that marked an important test for Israel’s new government on its second full day in office.

With tensions high amid a month-old ceasefire that ended days of deadly fighting between Israel and Gaza militants, police mobilized heavily, using stun grenades and foam-headed bullets to target Palestinians’ territory. to evict.

Doctors said 33 Palestinians were injured.

The so-called March of the Flags celebrates the anniversary of the city’s “reunification” after Israel conquered the east in 1967, including the Old City, which is home to holy sites for all three Abrahamic religions.

Outside the Damascus Gate entrance to the old walled warren, crowds of mostly young, religious men sang, danced and waved flags triumphantly in a square that had been cleared of the usual Palestinian crowds.

Some revelers chanted “Death to Arabs” before others pacified them.

Student Judah Powers, 24, draped an Israeli flag over his back and said he had come to show “that we as Jews, as Israelis, have the right to walk every inch of this city.”

Far-right lawmakers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich attended the march, hoisted on the shoulders of protesters.

Demonstrations by ultra-nationalist Jewish groups in Jerusalem last month led to a police raid on the Al-Aqsa mosque, sparking the deadliest flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence since 2014.

Tuesday’s demonstration was originally scheduled for early May but was canceled twice due to police opposition and threats from Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

‘Jerusalem is crying’

The government of Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said organizers had consulted police about the route of the march, which avoided the Muslim quarter of the old city but still took protesters to the explosive Damascus Gate before launching the march. Western Wall, a holy place for Jews.

Police, with more than 2,000 reinforcements, blocked nearby streets and used foam-headed bullets and stun grenades to disperse the Palestinians. AFP reporters saw officers attack a man and a woman for waving Palestinian flags.

Police said 17 people were arrested for disturbing the peace, including throwing rocks and assaulting police, with two officers requiring medical attention.

The Old City’s usually teeming alleys were empty when shopkeepers, including Palestinian clothing store owner Sameer Asmar, 63, closed their doors.

“We are even afraid to walk” in the old town, he told AFP, doubting the police could protect him during the march.

“I feel very bad,” he said. “Jerusalem is crying.”

The march comes just two days after former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted from 12 consecutive years in power, overthrown by an ideologically divided coalition, including, for the first time in Israel’s history, an Arab party.

Bennett is a Jewish nationalist himself, but Netanyahu’s allies accused the new premiere of treason for having ties to Arabs and the left.

Some protesters carried signs reading “Bennett the liar” on Tuesday.

Yair Lapid, the architect of the new government, said on Twitter that he believed the march should be allowed, but that “it is unimaginable how you can hold an Israeli flag and shout ‘Death to the Arabs’ at the same time…. These people are a disgrace to the nation of Israel.”

Mansour Abbas, whose four-seat Raam Islamist party was vital to the coalition, called Tuesday’s march a “provocation” that should have been cancelled.

Ahmed Tibi of the Joint List of Arab Opposition Party blocs said his group had twice asked the government to cancel the march because “the only legitimate flag (at Damascus Gate) and in East Jerusalem is the Palestinian flag.”

‘Very vulnerable’

United Nations Peace Envoy for the Middle East, Tor Wennesland, said it was a “very fragile and sensitive” time and urged all sides not to threaten a hard-fought ceasefire on May 21, which will ended 11 days of heavy fighting in and around Gaza.

Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by most of the international community, who say the city’s final status must be negotiated with the Palestinians – who claim the east of the city as the capital of their future state.

The iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City is Islam’s third holiest site and a national symbol for all Palestinians.

It is also Judaism’s holiest site, home to two Jewish temples in ancient times.

Ahead of Tuesday’s march, militants in Gaza sent incendiary balloons across the border. Israeli authorities reported 20 resulting fires near the blocked enclave.

Palestinian protesters also set fire to tires and threw rocks at Israeli security forces near checkpoints outside the cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

When the march was originally announced for last week, senior Hamas official Khalil Hayya warned it could lead to a return to violence.

Last month’s conflict began after Hamas gave Israel a deadline to remove its security forces from hot spots in East Jerusalem, then fired a barrage of rockets at Israel when the ultimatum was not heeded.

Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have killed 260 Palestinians, including some fighters, Gaza authorities said.

In Israel, 13 people, including a soldier, were killed by rockets and rockets fired from Gaza, police and military said.