Tensions high as Israel nationalists march into east Jerusalem
Tens of thousands of Israeli nationalists were marching to Jerusalem's Old City Thursday in an annual flag-waving march commemorating Israel's capture of it, as tensions on the Gaza border run high.
Palestinians in annexed east Jerusalem closed their shops and are banned from the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City, a social hub, to make way for the marchers, some of whom attacked journalists with rocks and bottles, an AFP reporter said.
In Gaza, thousands gathered on the border, many of them holding Palestinian flags, with the Israeli army firing tear gas towards people approaching the fence, AFP reporters said.
A Palestinian security source in Gaza said the terroritory's Islamist rulers, Hamas, fired a "warning rocket" into the sea, without elaborating.
Ahead of the Israeli march, the militant group said it "condemns the campaign of the Zionist occupation (Israel) against our Palestinian people in occupied Jerusalem".
Two years ago, after weeks of violence in Jerusalem in which scores of Palestinians were wounded, a war between Hamas and Israel erupted during the march.
Speaking late Thursday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Jerusalem celebrations were being held "3,000 years after being established by King David, 75 after it was re-established as the capital of the reborn state of Israel, and 56 years after being reunited".
Two of his extreme-right cabinet members, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, attended Thursday's march, one of the events marking what Israelis refer to as Jerusalem Day.
"There are tens of thousands here," Ben-Gvir told reporters as he marched through the crowds. "Jerusalem is ours forever."
Following the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel annexed east Jerusalem and its Old City in a move never recognised by the international community.
Thursday's rally takes place days into a ceasefire which ended deadly cross-border fighting with Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza.
Thirty-three people, including multiple civilians, were killed in the blockaded Palestinian enclave and two in Israel, a citizen and a Gazan labourer.
- 'Acquiescence' to extremists -
Some 2,500 police officers were securing the march, which began in the western part of the city at 4:00 pm (1300 GMT) before passing into east Jerusalem and through the Old City to the Western Wall.
Before the march began, Palestinians with shops in the Old City closed up for the day.
Resident Abu al-Abed, 72, said he wanted "to go home". The marchers "are harmful, they're walking and start to hit the doors of the shops and the doors of our houses," he told AFP.
Scuffles between Jewish and Palestinian youths were taking place as early marchers arrived in the Old City, with police saying that in some cases forces "were required to act to prevent friction and provocations".
Prior to the march, dozens of Jews -- including at least three lawmakers from Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party and a minister from Ben-Gvir's Jewish Power faction -- visited Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site.
Jews, who call it the Temple Mount and revere it as their religion's holiest site, are allowed to visit but not pray.
One of them, Tom Nissani, was sitting at Jaffa Gate with an Israeli flag, awaiting the march.
"It's our capital city, we have to show it, to enjoy it, to fight for it", the 34-year-old West Bank settler who works for an organisation promoting Jewish presence on the flashpoint site told AFP.
"Israel is not stable enough to be naive about the capital or the whole country, we still have to fight... many forces that are trying to prevent us from making roots in the land of Israel," he said.
Transport Minister Miri Regev, from Netanyahu's Likud, was among Israelis waving flags at Damascus Gate hours before the official rally.
A spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas warned Israel "against insisting on organising the provocative flag march".
Pushing ahead with the parade "confirms the acquiescence of the Israeli government to Jewish extremists", spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Wednesday.
Since last year's rally, Israel's leadership has taken a marked shift to the far-right.
Ben-Gvir, the country's national security minister who is expected to attend, was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terrorist group and inciting racism.
Far-right ally Smotrich holds the finance portfolio along with some powers in the occupied West Bank, and also has a history of inflammatory remarks about Palestinians.