Israel celebrates 45th Jerusalem Day
Israeli ministers held a special cabinet meeting at Ammunition Hill on Sunday to celebrate Jerusalem Day when the Jewish state captured the Arab eastern sector 45 years ago during the Six-Day War.
Celebrations were lined up throughout the day with formal ceremonies, parties and the annual flag march through east Jerusalem to mark the “reunification” of the city which took place after the 1967 Middle East war.
For Israel, which annexed the eastern sector in a move not recognised by the international community, Jerusalem is its “eternal and undivided capital.”
But for the Palestinians, east Jerusalem is where they want the capital of their promised state.
There were to be several memorial ceremonies throughout the city for those who fell during the Six-Day War, followed by the flag march which normally draws tens of thousands of marchers, many of them religious Zionist nationalists.
The weekly cabinet meeting was held Sunday at Ammunition Hill in east Jerusalem, a former Jordanian military post that saw some of the bloodiest fighting and which now houses preserved trenches, battle fortifications and a museum.
During the meeting the cabinet decided to allocate 350 million shekels ($91 million, 72 million euros) to create public spaces in Jerusalem over the next six years in a bid to develop tourism and infrastructure, a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said.
“The decisions that we are making today will continue this government's considerable investments in Jerusalem in recent years, the results of which we already see today,” Netanyahu said.
“These investments will help give expression to Jerusalem's vast potential as a focus for global tourism and will greatly contribute to the development and strength of Israel's capital.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told the cabinet that Jerusalem has been growing both culturally and economically for the last three years and had become “an open and inviting city where everyone is welcome.”
Security was tight throughout the city, with thousands of police on duty to secure the events, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
In the morning, two extreme right-wing members of the Israeli Knesset were part of a group that ascended to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, revered by Jews as the holiest site in their religion where their historic temples once stood.
The site, referred to by Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif and considered the third holiest site in Islam, is managed by Jordan's Islamic Waqf. Jews are allowed to visit the site under police supervision, but prohibited to pray there.
Three men from the group who attempted to pray there were removed from the site and questioned by police, Rosenfeld said.
“Thousands of police officers are being deployed throughout the city to avoid any disturbances along the route of the march which is expected to begin around 5:30 pm (1430 GMT),” he said of the annual flag march.
Police said they were expecting more than 25,000 to attend the parade, which this year will begin near Netanyahu's residence and wind its way towards the walled Old City before ending at the Western Wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites.
Women were expected to enter the Old City through Jaffa Gate, while the men were to walk clockwise around the ancient walls, passing Damascus Gate, the main entrance from east Jerusalem, and continuing until the Dung Gate in the city's southern wall, a police statement said.
Last year, the march began in the sensitive east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, with some marchers chanting anti-Arab slogans which sparked clashes and a handful of arrests.
According to figures released for Jerusalem Day by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the city is the largest in Israel and has a population of 801 000.
Of that number, 497 000 residents - or 62 percent - are Jews, 281 l000 - or 35 percent - are Muslims and 14 000, or 2 percent, are Christians, with the remaining 9 000 or so unclassified. - Sapa-AFP