This week’s Jerusalem Day flag march through the capital’s Old City will be a significant test for the recently brokered ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group.
In an article published in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, known for its Hamas sources, it was reported that while Thursday’s flag parade was not explicitly addressed in Saturday night’s ceasefire agreement, the Gaza terrorist groups will vow to oppose any so-called “Israeli aggression” against the Al-Aqsa mosque or a violation of the Israel-Hamas ceasefire reached in May 2021 following that month’s war (“Operation Guardian of the Walls”).
The May 2021 war commenced precisely when the flag parade was about to begin, marked by two rockets Hamas fired towards Jerusalem.
The flag march is an annual highlight of Jerusalem Day festivities, which celebrate the anniversary of the Israeli capital’s reunification during the Six-Day War. Thousands of youths carrying Israeli flags march through Jerusalem’s Old City.
Palestinians accuse Israel of using the march to “Judaize” the city.
The parade passes through Damascus Gate and proceeds through the Old City to the Western Wall. Marchers do not ascend the adjacent Temple Mount.
Israel warned Hamas that it would retaliate powerfully to any rocket fire during Jerusalem Day.
Localized clashes, or a new Gaza war?
Before Jerusalem Day in 2021, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to change the route so that marchers would not pass through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. Hamas nevertheless fired rockets, sparking an 11-day military operation in Gaza. During that time, Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired 4,400 rockets, killing 13 people inside Israel.
The conflict spread to a number of mixed Jewish-Arab cities, such as Ramla, Lod, Acre and Tiberias as Arab Israelis attacked Jews.
Gaza sources told Al-Akhbar that they are prepared for another confrontation and have been in communication with mediators. These statements followed talks in Cairo involving Islamic Jihad, and the “resistance” pledged to monitor Israel’s actions around the mosques and prevent any crossing of “red lines.”
While it is widely believed that the flag parade may lead to violent incidents, it is not anticipated to ignite a new conflict originating from the Gaza Strip.
Ahmed Fouad, an academic specializing in Israeli affairs and a member of the Egyptian Council of Foreign Affairs, said, “The true test of the ceasefire’s stability lies in the flag march, which is expected to cause clashes if it passes through the Muslim Quarter.”
Netanyahu confirmed on Monday that “the flag march will continue as planned, as usual, on its regular route.”
Regarding the possibility of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian source said that Hamas aims to keep the Strip out of the hostilities. However, Hamas would consider a “response” in eastern Jerusalem as legitimate, believing that would not undermine the terrorist group’s efforts to rehabilitate the Strip.
Israeli political officials emphasize that Israel did not commit, at any point, to altering the route of the flag parade as part of its ceasefire with Islamic Jihad. Simultaneously, Palestinian sources in Gaza claim that Islamic Jihad field operatives rejected the ceasefire and urged the continuation of conflict until the flag parade takes place.
These sources allege that the field operatives were responsible for firing rockets past the ceasefire start time of 10 p.m. on Saturday, signaling to Israel, Islamic Jihad and Hamas that “everything is open.”
Palestinian sources further add that Egypt exerted significant efforts to halt the confrontation between Israel and Islamic Jihad as early as possible, aiming to prevent any escalation linked to the flag parade.
Palestinian campaigns on social media platforms are now urging the thwarting of the flag parade. Clerics are disseminating videos calling for action against Jews marching in Jerusalem’s Old City, including demonstrations, protest rallies, and a procession from Damascus Gate to the Temple Mount featuring Palestinian flags are being advocated.
They are also encouraging confrontations with Israeli soldiers at potential flashpoints.
Reports in Israel about the intention of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to participate in the parade have garnered significant attention on social media. Palestinians are calling for preventing their participation and urging actions to “protect the mosques.”