The Palestinian presidency says Israel is “playing with fire” as thousands of Israeli Jews prepare to march through Muslim areas in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The annual event comes at a time of particularly high tensions following months of deadly incidents.
The Flag March takes place on Israel’s Jerusalem Day, celebrating its capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.
Israel regards the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, something rejected by most countries and the Palestinians.
The status of the city goes to the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians claim Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future hoped-for state of their own, though Israel says the city will never be redivided.
“Israel is irresponsibly and recklessly playing with fire by allowing settlers to desecrate the holy sites” in East Jerusalem, the president’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa. Palestinian officials often describe Israelis who visit a key holy site in the Old City revered by Muslims and Jews as settlers and their presence there as a desecration.
There were skirmishes at a flashpoint site on Sunday morning when Palestinians threw fireworks and rocks at police, who fired what appeared to be stun grenades.
Shortly after, large groups of Jewish visitors, including far-right MP Itamar Ben Gvir, arrived at the site, where some danced, waved Israeli flags and appeared to pray, before being stopped by police. Palestinians view such actions as deliberately provocative and militant groups had warned they would not tolerate it.
There were also scuffles afterwards between Palestinians and Israelis outside another gate leading directly onto the site, local media reported.
Jews and other non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site at certain times but are forbidden to pray or display any religious or national symbols under a long-standing agreement with the Muslim authority which administers the compound.
The site is known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), and contains the al-Aqsa (Qibli) mosque, the third holiest place in Islam. The same hilltop complex is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and is the holiest place in Judaism.
Last year, a devastating 11-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza erupted on Jerusalem Day when Gaza’s Hamas rulers fired rockets towards the city after Israeli police and Palestinians clashed at the holy site.
This year marchers are being allowed to enter the Old City through Damascus Gate which leads into the Muslim Quarter – a decision which was condemned by Palestinians. Last year marchers were not allowed to use this route due to the volatile situation.
Most of the marchers will pass through Damascus Gate, while a smaller number will enter through Jaffa Gate between the Christian and Armenian Quarters, with both converging at the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter.
The march traditionally sees thousands of young Jews, many waving Israeli flags, dance and sing patriotic songs as they stream through the patchwork of alleyways which run through the historic four quarters.
At a cabinet meeting on Sunday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett defended the march, saying “Waving the Israeli flag in the capital of Israel is natural”. Palestinians however view the event as highly provocative.
This year’s march is taking place amid an already highly charged atmosphere between the two sides.
A wave of deadly attacks on Israelis by Palestinians or Israeli Arabs, and the deaths of dozens of Palestinians, including attackers, militants and civilians, by Israeli forces has fuelled anger on both sides.
It also follows recriminations over the killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Aqla, shot dead while reporting on an Israeli military operation in the occupied West Bank on 11 May.
Palestinian investigators have concluded that she was shot by an Israeli soldier “with the aim of killing”. Israel has dismissed this as a “blatant lie”, saying the Palestinians’ refusal to co-operate in a joint investigation makes it so far impossible to determine whether Abu Aqla was killed by a soldier or Palestinian militant.