By Maayan Lubell
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli far right groups scrapped a planned march through Jerusalem’s Old City after police refused to authorize it amid fears it would rekindle strife that led to 11 days of intense fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants last month.
Several groups had planned a flag-waving procession through the walled Old City’s Damascus Gate and into its Muslim quarter this coming Thursday, drawing warnings from Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement of fresh hostilities should it go ahead.
The original march on May 10 was re-routed at the last minute as tensions around Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where Palestinian families face eviction, led Hamas to fire rockets towards the holy city.
Israel responded with air strikes, and the most serious cross-border fighting with Hamas in years raged for 11 days before a fragile ceasefire was achieved. Arab-Jewish violence also erupted in several Israeli cities.
Police said on Monday the permit was denied for Thursday’s march to proceed on the date and along the route planned by the organizers, and that an alternative procession would be considered if submitted.
Far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir said he would nonetheless march along the full route, accusing police of “capitulating to terrorism.”
A Hamas spokesman in Gaza said the police decision stemmed from Israel’s recognition of “the danger of crossing … red lines” set by the group over Israeli activity at sensitive sites in Jerusalem, and “consequences it may bring on the ground”.
It was not immediately clear if police made the move in consultation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, some of whose right-wing members have voiced support for the march as a show of Israel’s claim to sovereignty over East Jerusalem, disputed by Palestinians.
Israel’s Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, said on Twitter that the police ban should be reviewed by the government, floating the possibility that it could still be overturned.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem, in a move that has not won international recognition, after capturing the area in the 1967 Middle East war. It considers all of Jerusalem its capital.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they seek to establish in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Tensions are likely to remain high in Jerusalem even if the march does not go ahead. Protests have flared in Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families face possible eviction after an Israeli court accepted Jewish settler land claims.
Israeli Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit informed the Supreme Court that he would not intervene in the legal proceedings, paving the way for the court to issue a ruling widely expected to be in favor of the settlers.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in GazaEditing by Jeffrey Heller, Mark Heinrich, Peter Graff)