Jerusalem Police brace for a tense Ramadan as Hamas threatens ‘explosion’

An enlarged police cyber center will work to counter incitement and coordinate with forces in the field.

Muslims attend Friday prayers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, March 24, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Muslims attend Friday prayers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, March 24, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.

Security forces led by Jerusalem District Police have been preparing for possible violence during Ramadan, which began on Wednesday evening and is due to continue until April 21. Hamas leaders threatened to respond to any perceived upset to the status quo on the Temple Mount with “an explosion,” and called on Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to continue terrorist attacks against Israelis.

Hamas representatives have been issuing threats in recent days to escalate the security situation if they believe that Israel is acting against Palestinians and “against the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” which they view as a “red line” that could ignite the region, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.

The report noted a rare public statement by Hamas’s deputy “military” wing commander, Marwan Issa, who said that any change in the situation surrounding the mosque would cause an “earthquake” in the area.

To counter efforts by Islamist terrorist factions to pour fuel on the fire, international, Israeli and regional Arab government officials have in recent weeks attempted to institute de-escalation measures. These efforts included two security summits, held in February and March in Jordan and Egypt, respectively, involving representatives from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the United States, Egypt and Jordan.

At the same time, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit in the Israeli Defense Ministry announced a series of steps to ease conditions for the Palestinian population during Ramadan.

Freedom of worship

The Jerusalem District Police will increase forces in Jerusalem with emphasis on the inflammable eastern section of the city and the holy places, where violence has flared up during Ramadan in past years. The district announced last week that it had completed preparations for the holiday month, as many worshippers and visitors are expected to begin flowing into the Old City.

An increased police presence is in place in and around the Old City and other popular sites. Police are also working with local authorities to manage crowds and heavy traffic flows, in particular in the Old City area, the Temple Mount and other holy places.

The police expressed its commitment to allowing freedom of worship while maintaining security and public order. Jerusalem District Police chief Cmdr. Doron Turgeman held coordination meetings with a large number of units, and took several steps at the operational and community policing levels ahead of the holiday, police said. These included meetings with residents of eastern Jerusalem.

Jerusalem District officers have been joined by Border Police officers, and reinforcements from other districts, with an emphasis on the Old City as well as on roads leading to the area, and the seam zone between the eastern and western parts of the city, police said.

Changes in traffic arrangements are expected during the coming month as well. Passover will begin on the evening of April 5 and on April 9, the mass priestly blessing event will be held at the Western Wall.

Jerusalem Police said it would use an array of technological capabilities and means to detect and treat unusual incidents, prevent violence and direct a response effort to thwart terrorism and to provide a “determined and uncompromising treatment of those seeking to attack civilians or security forces.”

A police cyber control center will be operated in the Jerusalem District in an expanded manner, staffed by members of intelligence agencies, police investigation units and others. Its main mission will be to monitor and counter incitement across the internet and to coordinate with security forces in the field.

In addition, a district investigative task force has been established that will process those who are arrested for public order violations, incitement and related offenses.

“Past experience shows that during Ramadan there are those who try to take advantage of the holiday days to spread incitement materials, false rumors and disinformation, especially in relation to the holy places,” particularly that coming from terrorist organizations, police said.

“These cynically exploit young people who feed on the incitement and cause them to desecrate the holy places while hurting a large public of worshippers and the holiday routine, including through rioting and misconduct,” police added.

The Meir Amit Center noted that Hamas sees itself as the guardian of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and is trying to enforce a new equation created by its May 2021 conflict (“Operation Guardian of the Walls”) with Israel, according to which it responds to escalations in Jerusalem with rocket fire from Gaza.

A message from Hamas

The terrorist organization’s statements, “led by Marwan Issa’s remarks, are in fact a strategic message from Hamas’s top military hierarchy and may be an indication of Hamas’s intentions this month,” said the report. The message is that if Israel is perceived to cross ‘red lines,’ Hamas will attack with rocket fire, but that this scenario can also be avoided and that Hamas is content to let Palestinians in Judea and Samaria lead the violence at this stage.”

Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s overseas bureau, said Palestinians are headed for an escalation during Ramadan and that “hot days” are ahead. Saleh al-Arouri, the Lebanon-based Hamas deputy political bureau chief, said the “resistance” in Judea and Samaria will not stop, and that Hamas is closely following developments in Jerusalem.

On March 20, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) intelligence agency announced that it uncovered a terrorist network in Judea and Samaria led by operatives from the Gaza Strip and thwarted a shooting attack in Jerusalem. The network was centered on two members of the Popular Resistance Committees in Rafah, southern Gaza, who were placed under covert surveillance as they recruited young Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and provided them with training and guidance on conducting terrorism.

Two Palestinians from Judea and Samaria were arrested recently on suspicion of being part of the cell. During their questioning, it emerged that they had received instructions from the handlers in Gaza, and security forces recovered a gun earmarked to be used in “a significant shooting attack in Jerusalem in the coming days,” said the Shin Bet.

The Popular Resistance Committees terrorist group is supported and funded by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the agency added.

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