The Daily Telegraph
Nationalist march threatens to renew Israel conflict
New prime minister Naftali Bennett is warned that Hamas will launch fresh rocket attacks
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.