On May 21, a ceasefire regime between Israel and the Gaza Strip took effect, putting an end to 11 days of fighting that saw over 200 being killed and several thousand others injured. The shaky truce held for less than a month. Days after Israel officially appointed a new government, the administration is once again facing flak, having launched a series of airstrikes at militant sites in the Gaza Strip early on Wednesday.
While tensions have simmered for quite some time now, the situation escalated on Tuesday as hundreds of Israeli ultra-nationalists took to the streets, waving flags and chanting anti-Arab slogans. Music blared, and they danced and sang religious songs. According to reports, chants heard from the protesters included rather disturbing phrases such as "Death to Arabs!" and "May your village burn."
This did not go down well with Palestinians in Gaza. Matters were made worse by the fact that the march coincided with the dates of the Six Day War that saw Israel capture east Jerusalem in 1967. And while Hamas called on Palestinians to "resist" the parade, some responded by launching incendiary balloons that caused at least 10 fires in southern Israel.
Which brings us to Wednesday morning, when Israeli airstrikes lit up the Gaza skyline. According to the military, the strikes targeted facilities used by Hamas militants for meetings to plan attacks. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
The protests also pose a fresh challenge for Israel's new government and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who helms the right-wing Yamina party. But this is but one of the members of an eight-party coalition that now leads the country. The new administration (which also happens to have a razor thin majority) features two left, two centre, one Arab Islamist and three right-wing parties - with very little in common beyond their desire to overthrow Netanyahu. Needless to say, the protests have not gone down well with some.
Bennett is believed to be opposed to Palestinian independence, and strongly supports Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Ahead of the march, Israeli police cleared the area in front of Damascus Gate, shut down roads to traffic, ordered shops to close and sent away young Palestinian protesters. Police said that officers arrested 17 people suspected of involvement in violence, some of whom threw rocks and attacked police, and that two police officers needed medical treatment. Palestinians said five people were hurt in clashes with police. Though there were concerns the march would raise tensions, canceling it would have opened Bennett and other right-wing members of the coalition to intense criticism from those who would view it as a capitulation to Hamas.
On the other hand Finance Minister Yair Lapid who is set to take over as PM in 2.5 years leads the centrist Yesh Atid party. And on Wednesday, he did not hesitate to condemn the protesters. "The fact that there are radicals for whom the Israeli flag represents hatred and racism is abominable and unforgivable," he contended.
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