Jewish settlers march to outpost of Eviatar near Tapuah junction, West Bank, Monday, April 10, 2023. (AP )
Israeli police and army forces were being deployed to the northern West Bank — the scene of frequent tensions in recent months — to secure the march, which comes after days of fighting in Jerusalem and along Israel’s northern and southern fronts.
The march to Eviatar, an unauthorized settlement outpost in the northern West Bank that was evacuated by the Israeli government in 2021, was being led by hard-line ultranationalist Jewish settlers. Organizers are calling for the settlement's reestablishment and legalization.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the most religious and extremist government in Israel’s history. Several members of his Cabinet, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir — both West Bank extremist settlers — and at least 20 members of Knesset were expected to take part in the march.
Visits to Eviatar were officially banned by the military since its evacuation, but that prohibition has been loosely enforced in recent months. Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said the military approved Monday's march, saying it would be “highly monitored and highly protected.”
The planned demonstration added to the already combustible atmosphere in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, since last week's Israeli occupation raid on Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Last week, Israeli police invaded the prayer hall and firing tear gas and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of Palestinians who were participating in "Itikaf," a religious practice of seclusion inside mosques that is commonly observed during Ramadan.
Police removed them by force, detaining hundreds and leaving dozens injured.
The hilltop shrine is the emotional ground zero of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Al-Aqsa compound in occupied Jerusalem has a decades-old status quo recognized by the international community. Under this arrangement, only Muslim worship is allowed at the site, while non-Muslims can visit during specific times but are prohibited from praying there.
Dozens of Jewish visitors entered the site on Monday escorted by Israeli police for a second consecutive day. These tours by religious and nationalist Jews have increased in size and frequency in recent years, raising fears by Palestinians that Israel may partition the site.
The Isaeli violence at the shrine was followed by retaliatory rocket fire by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip, southern Lebanon, and Syria starting Wednesday, and Israeli airstrikes targeting those areas. Recent days have also seen Palestinian attacks that killed two Israelis and an Italian tourist.
Over 93 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire so far this year, according to Palestinians' tally.
Israel occupied the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war. Since, it has built dozens of illegal settlements in the territory that are now home to more than 500,000 Jewish settlers.
Most of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians, yet Netanyahu's government has made settlement expansion a top priority.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with Gaza and east Jerusalem for their future independent state.