Sources in Gaza warned Israel the Palestinian enclave's terrorist groups are preparing for possible confrontations, including the launching of rocket fire, if Israel's nationalist flag parade goes through next Sunday.
“Hamas’ military wing is on high alert and ready to carry out the leadership’s orders for a possible confrontation with Israel if the flag parade, expected on the 29th of the month [Sunday], moves very close to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall plaza,” a source in the Gaza Strip said on Monday.
The source said that the military wing is now on high alert, recruiting militants, checking communication systems, and preparing outposts. He emphasized that “this is not an idle threat.”
According to the source, the threats voiced on Sunday by Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas Politburo, to the “The Sword of Jerusalem – Unity of the Uma and People” conference in the Gaza Strip, made clear beyond doubt that rocket fire on Israel should be the response to Israel's traditional flag parade on Jerusalem Day.
Haniyeh stressed that the “resistance” would confront the Israeli flag march and would respond by all means, and called on its people to be prepared.
“We are following the threats to storm the Al-Aqsa Mosque on May 29 and organize a march of flags, which were torn by the rockets of the resistance a year ago.”
Building up tensions last year, which culminated in Jerusalem’s Day parade, led to Hamas firing rockets at Jerusalem and the subsequent Gaza war while Muslims rioted for days in cities across the country.
“Our decision is clear, do not get confused, we will confront and never allow harm to Al-Aqsa,” he warned.
Another source in the Gaza Strip said that Egyptian mediators are on high alert and that the Egyptians are also criticizing Israel’s intention to allow the flag parade to go through the Old City.
The Jerusalem Day celebrations, marking Israel's victory during the 1967 Six-Day War and the reunification of East and West Jerusalem, include a parade in which tens of thousands of Israelis march with flags through the city’s center and then through the Old City while entering it through the Damascus Gate. The parade and its scheduled route were approved by all the relevant security bodies in Israel. The march does not include, and has never included, the Temple Mount.
“Hamas is now giving last chance to Egyptian mediation,” the Gaza source said, but “Hamas is in a situation where it must prove a match between its threats and statements to its actions on the ground, and prove that what its senior officials said is not meaningless.”
A Palestinian source, relying on messages from Hamas’ military wing, said that “the organization’s strategy remains and is still based on military pressure and long-term attrition alongside the dispersal [of attacks] in all Palestinian arenas fighting in Israel while leaving the Strip out of the conflict,” adding that the military arm believes a limited response, or an attack carried out by one of the other terror organizations in the Gaza Strip, which will not harm deep inside Israel, will serve this strategy and will not lead Israel to a significant military response.
Referring to the question of the Gaza Strip’s involvement in an upcoming conflict, the Gaza Strip said that Hamas is committed to the Iranian-led “Jerusalem Axis” and is backed by Iran in its threats against Israel in launching a regional campaign outside the Gaza Strip.
Senior Hamas figures recently spoke out about launching a regional campaign, declaring that in the next round of fighting against Israel from the Gaza Strip, external forces will also participate alongside terror groups in Gaza.
The new axis was established a year ago, following the recent Gaza war, and with its establishment, an internal debate in Hamas over joining Iran ended, with the military wing deciding in favor of supporting Iran. Hamas says that the war has awakened “dormant fronts” and that the “Axis of Jerusalem” is expected to participate in the next round of fighting and launch rockets at Israel.
One of the tasks of the extremist axis is to break the naval blockade imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip. In Yahya Senwar’s recent surprise speech, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip said that Hamas would soon begin coordinating the breaking of the siege with the help of the “Jerusalem Axis.”
A Hamas source in the West Bank said that there is agreement among all factions in the Gaza Strip to "a very significant response" against Israel if the flag parade passes near the mosque in East Jerusalem.
“If the march passes through al-Aqsa Square (Western Wall), Hamas will launch rockets and even if the mediators press it to prevent escalation, other factions will launch their missiles,” he said, pointing to the Islamic Jihad.
The Islamic Jihad organization sent a message to Israel through mediators that the flag parade on Jerusalem Day is a “defiant and aggressive move that will have a response.” The Gaza Strip estimates that even if the mediators press Hamas not to escalate the situation, it is likely that Islamic Jihad will launch rockets at Israel if the flag parade passes through the Old City. “Islamic Jihad is committed to responding to the assassination of the senior Iranian official both under expected pressure from Egypt and at the cost of dragging Hamas into another campaign against Israel.”
On Sunday, the Palestinian Authority’s presidency warned of the “provocative flag march” and of the Israeli Magistrate’s Court’s decision to allow Israelis to pray on the Temple Mount.
A Palestinian Authority source estimated that “if the march goes ahead, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have no choice but to respond militarily, and to this must be added the fact of the assassination of the Iranian colonel who is responsible for Hezbollah’s missile reservoirs in the past, as a factor that will lead to a regional escalation if Hamas opens a front in the south.”
The Jordanian Foreign Ministry opposed the court decision allowing prayers for Jews on the Temple Mount and said that “the decision is null and void and violates all international laws regarding Jerusalem, and is a dangerous violation of the existing historical and legal status quo in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The kingdom does not recognize Israeli court jurisdiction on occupied Jerusalem. The mosque on all its territory is a place of worship for Muslims only.”
A source in eastern Jerusalem said, “I think the Israeli government will not implement the court decision that allows Jews to pray on the mountain, since the decision means a coup against Hashemite guardianship, and in this matter, the government cannot bear the heavy responsibility of creating a dangerous escalation.”