Journalists attacked as thousands of Israeli nationalists march through Jerusalem

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Thousands of Israelis, including several nationalist groups, have gathered in Jerusalem for the annual flag march to celebrate the capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.

The crowd, wrapped in thousands of Israeli flags, gathered outside the Damascus Gate in the Old City and chanted slogans containing anti-Arab rhetoric before making their way through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, a route considered highly provocative by Palestinians.

The same march three years ago helped trigger an 11-day war in Gaza, a region considered the emotionally highly sensitive center of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Shai Rosengarten, deputy director of the Im Tirtzu group, stressed that the trip through the Old City was not a provocation and referred to the “natural and historical right” of the Jewish people.

In response, Palestinian shops along the route closed their doors while a massive police presence of 3,000 officers stood guard.

By the end of the day, police reported 18 arrests, including five for attacks on journalists.

Haaretz journalist Nir Hasson was among those attacked. The newspaper described scenes in which hundreds of young men stormed through the Muslim quarter, chanting “Death to Arabs” and attacking Palestinians.

The march, usually marked by tension, was particularly charged this year due to the ongoing conflict in Gaza, which continues to capture the world’s attention.

During a special session to mark Jerusalem Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled Israel’s historic struggles, saying the country is still “surrounded by enemies,” as it was 57 years ago.

“They wanted to strangle us and wipe us off the map. But we are an ancient people, a people of brave fighters. We rose up together and defended ourselves,” he said.

“We are doing this today against Hamas in the south, Hezbollah in the north and Iran in the east.”

Meanwhile, Ismail Haniyeh, political leader of the terrorist group Hamas, condemned the march as a “settler rampage” and vowed that his people “will not rest until the occupation ends.”

Jerusalem, home to important Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, remains at the heart of the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel, which occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it in 1980 (a move not recognized by most countries), claims the entire city as its capital.

Conversely, Palestinian leaders aim to make East Jerusalem, currently home to about 350,000 Palestinians and 230,000 Israelis, the capital of a future independent Palestinian state.

The flag march has sparked violence in the past. In 2021, Hamas fired rockets at the city on the same day, sparking an 11-day war in Gaza.

This comes as the Israeli military continues to carry out heavy air strikes on the center of the Gaza Strip and international talks on a ceasefire and the release of the hostages resume.

US President Joe Biden continues to push for a three-phase plan to halt fighting for six weeks while hostages are exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. Under this proposed ceasefire, authorities plan to send much-needed aid to civilians still caught in the fray.

Western powers and Arab states support the proposal, but there are fears that a solution may not be reached between the warring states.

Israeli politicians have flatly rejected Hamas’s demands for a permanent ceasefire and a complete withdrawal from the Israeli army.

Biden had previously told the Emir of Qatar that “Hamas is now the only obstacle to a full ceasefire” and “affirmed Israel’s willingness to move forward with the terms” he outlined last week.

At that time, a senior Hamas official accused Israel of seeking “endless” negotiations and reiterated Hamas’s stance of rejecting any agreement that excludes a permanent ceasefire.

Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said he expected fighting in the Gaza Strip to continue through the rest of 2024.

“The fighting in the Gaza Strip will continue for at least another seven months,” he said in an interview with Israeli media last week.

Eight months after the start of the most brutal Gaza war in history, Israel faces growing international opposition and proceedings are underway in two international courts in the Netherlands. Algeria has proposed a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages.

Chinese Ambassador Fu Cong hopes for a vote this week, with President Xi Jinping expressing deep concern about the situation in the Gaza Strip.

French UN Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere called for urgent measures to reduce civilian deaths.

“This is a question of life and death,” he said.

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