The IDF was put on high alert on Tuesday as Israel prepared for a controversial flag-waving procession by right-wingers in Jerusalem that risked igniting tensions with Palestinians in Jerusalem and on the West Bank as well as across the Gaza border.
The annual march, known as the Flag Parade, usually takes place in May but was cut short this year by a barrage of rockets on Jerusalem from Gaza that signaled the start of an 11-day conflict.
Assailing the march as a "provocation," Palestinian factions have called for a "Day of Rage" in Gaza and the West Bank.
Plans to reschedule the event for last week were cancelled due to police insistence that the marchers avoid the flashpoint Muslim Quarter of the Old City. The event was reinstated however at the insistence of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu days before he left office on Sunday.
An official route for Tuesday's march has yet to be announced. Israeli media reported that police will allow participants to congregate outside the Old City's Damascus Gate but will not let them cross through it to the Muslim Quarter, which has an overwhelmingly Arab population.
The new public security minister, Labor's Omer Barlev, decided that the event could go ahead Tuesday, arguing that in a democracy, citizens have the right to demonstrate.
Meanwhile, extra batteries of the Iron Dome missile defense system were deployed to the south of the country and to other locations following a warning from Gaza's ruling Hamas terror group that it would launch rockets into Israel if the march went ahead.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said late Monday that the situation due to the march was volatile.
"We are preparing for renewed fighting," he said, warning that Israel's response to rocket fire from Gaza would be more severe than during the bitter May conflict.
"We warn of the dangerous repercussions that may result from the occupying power's intention to allow extremist Israeli settlers to carry out the Flag March in occupied Jerusalem tomorrow," Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Monday on Twitter.
The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem prohibited its employees and their families from entering the Old City on Tuesday.
"Due to calls for a Jerusalem Flag March in Jerusalem’s Old City, U.S. government employees are prohibited from Jerusalem’s Old City on June 15. U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to take appropriate steps to increase security awareness," the embassy said in a statement.
Tuesday's march, due to begin at 6:30pm, poses an immediate challenge for new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who took office on Sunday.
A route change or cancellation of the procession could expose Bennett's patchwork coalition to accusations from Netanyahu, now in the opposition, and his right-wing allies of giving Hamas veto power over events in Jerusalem.
Palestinian protests were planned for 6pm across the Gaza Strip, and Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction have called on Palestinians to flock to the Old City to counter the march.
"Tensions (are) rising again in Jerusalem at a very fragile & sensitive security & political time, when UN & Egypt are actively engaged in solidifying the ceasefire," UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said on Twitter, referring to the Egyptian-brokered truce that ended last month's fighting.
"Urge all relevant parties to act responsibly & avoid any provocations that could lead to another round of confrontation," he said.
First published: 08:28, 06.15.21