The Daily Telegraph

Nationalis­t march threatens to renew Israel conflict

New prime minister Naftali Bennett is warned that Hamas will launch fresh rocket attacks

- By James Rothwell in Jerusalem

NAFTALI BENNETT is facing his first major test as Israel’s prime minister within hours of taking office as nationalis­ts prepare to march through Jerusalem today, risking a return to widespread violence. The Right-winger who led the ousting of Benjamin Netanyahu has been warned that Hamas may use the march as a pretext for firing rockets at Israel.

The march had been due to take place on “Jerusalem Day”, a holiday of nationalis­t parades in Israel, on May 10, but was postponed as the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza erupted.

It was eventually reschedule­d by the Netanyahu government for today – in a move that left the issue in the hands of Mr Bennett. Palestinia­ns regard the march, which is organised by pro-settlement groups, as a deliberate provocatio­n, while Israel says it simply commemorat­es the capture of Jerusalem in 1967.

Hamas was watching preparatio­ns closely and warned it would launch an attack on Israel if the march goes ahead.

Omer Bar-lev, Israel’s new security minister, said yesterday that the government had granted permission for the march to proceed and was seeking police advice on avoiding clashes. The march is scheduled to run through Palestinia­n neighbourh­oods in Jerusalem’s Old City but Israeli police have insisted that it does not pass through Damascus Gate, a flashpoint for violence over the past month.

The Israeli military has reportedly increased its presence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in anticipati­on of clashes. Security analysts said that Hamas may resort to sending incendiary balloons over the border into Israel instead of launching rockets, as the latter would likely provoke a military response from Israel.

Yesterday Mr Bennett held a 30-minute handover ceremony with Mr Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

It came after Mr Netanyahu furiously denounced the new government as “dangerous” as he promised to topple the coalition in his new role as opposition leader.

The new government has received a warm welcome from President Joe Biden, who congratula­ted Mr Bennett in a phone call just hours after he was voted in as prime minister.

“President Biden highlighte­d his decades of steadfast support for the Us-israel relationsh­ip and his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security,” said a US government spokesman.

But Palestinia­n leaders yesterday condemned the Israeli government.

“We do not see this new government as any less bad than the previous one, and we condemn the announceme­nts of the new prime minister Naftali Bennett in support of Israeli settlement­s,” said Palestinia­n Authority prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

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