Hamas says Israel must rethink flag march or face violence

Israeli Jews dance with flags by Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem's Old City June 15, 2021 (Ronen Zvulun - Reuters)

Crispian Balmer & Nidal al-Mughrabi

Reuters  /  May 26, 2022

GAZA – The Islamist Hamas group that runs the Gaza Strip has warned Israel it risks another war if it allows flag-waving nationalists to march through Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday.

Bassem Na’im, head of Hamas’s department of politics and foreign relations, urged international governments to pressure Israel to reroute the contested march, which is currently slated to pass through the heart of the Muslim quarter.

“I expect that Hamas and the other (military) factions are ready to do all they can to prevent this event, regardless of how much it costs us,” Na’im told Reuters from his office.

“The decision is in the hands of the Israelis and the international community. They can avoid a war and escalation if they stop this mad (march),” he said.

The annual flag march celebrates Israel’s capture of the Old City in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel deems all of Jerusalem its capital – a status not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want to establish their own capital in the city.

suicide bombers ?

 Palestinians in Gaza fired a barrage of rockets into Israel last year as the 2021 march got underway, triggering an 11-day war. A growing crescendo of threats from Gaza over the projected 2022 route has raised the specter of a new conflict, but Na’im said any confrontation might follow a different pattern.

“Who said that the reaction will only be from Gaza? Perhaps you will have suicide bombers inside Jerusalem, I don’t know. Not ordered from us,” he said, pointing to a spate of recent attacks in Israel by men not affiliated to Palestinian factions.

“The battle isn’t with Hamas alone, it is with the Palestinian people,” he said.

Suicide bombings in Israeli cities were a hallmark of the Palestinian revolt of 2000-2005, but have been extremely rare since then.

After months of relative calm following the 2021 war, tensions have risen since the spring, with Jerusalem and the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound often the focal point of the growing friction.

Na’im said Hamas and other factions have discussed the planned flag march with international mediators who told them that Israel was looking to avoid a flare-up.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has defended a decision by security officials to let Sunday’s march enter the Damascus Gate and pass through the Muslim quarter.

However, some members of his coalition government have urged him to rethink the route and suggested there might be a last-minute change of heart. read more

Organizers say the march has gone through the Damascus Gate in previous years, meaning it was part of the city’s established “status quo”. However Na’im said an increasingly assertive Hamas would never accept such thinking.

“This march can be cancelled. It is a political step. It has nothing to do with religion,” he said.

Writing by Nidal Almughrabi and Crispian Balmer; editing by Gareth Jones