Gaza Militants’ Rocket Fire Spurs Israeli Air Raids, Killing 20
Palestinian militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip fired dozens of rockets at the Jerusalem area and southern Israel on Monday, and Israeli jets retaliated, as weeks of confrontations exploded on two fronts.
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said that 20 Palestinians were killed, including 9 children, with 65 injured. Two houses outside Jerusalem were slightly damaged and an antitank missile struck a car in southern Israel, wounding one person, Israeli officials and media said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Gaza militants of crossing a “red line” with the rocket attacks and warned that “we won’t put up with harm done to our land, our capital, our citizens and our soldiers.” He predicted that the current round of violence could last for “some time.”
The start of the rocket fire coincided with a 6 p.m. deadline Hamas had set for Israel to vacate the Al-Aqsa mosque, a Jerusalem shrine that hours earlier had been the site of one of the most serious clashes between Israel and the Palestinians in years.
Israeli officials said more than 50 rockets were fired.
“Al-Qassem Brigades are now firing missiles against the enemy in occupied Jerusalem in response to its crimes and aggression against the holy city and the harassment of our people in Sheikh Jarrakh and the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” a spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, Abu Obeidah, said in a statement after the initial volley.
Sheikh Jarrakh is a traditionally Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem that has become a recent flashpoint for violence over Israeli plans to evict some longtime Palestinian residents from their homes.
The U.S. said it was continuing to closely monitor the violence. “We have serious concerns about the situation,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
Jerusalem has been experiencing its worst unrest in years since the beginning of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan more than three weeks ago. Israeli restrictions on gathering at a traditional Ramadan meeting place outside the Old City touched off the tensions, but after they were lifted, protests were rekindled by the threatened evictions.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry accused Palestinian leaders of stirring up riots.
The violence is flaring at a time when Netanyahu’s rivals are trying to piece together a government after the fourth election in two years, and it could have a dramatic effect on those efforts. Channel 11 reported that Netanyahu’s opponents have halted their advanced coalition talks to give the government support for any kind of military action it deems necessary.
Air raid sirens pierced the air over Jerusalem for the first time since 2014, and the mosque compound, which is also the site of the biblical Jewish temple, was vacated, as was the Parliament building, Israel media reported. In the late evening, firecrackers set off by Palestinians at the mosque plaza touched off a blaze, police said.
Overnight Monday, the Israeli army said another barrage of rockets from Gaza was fired toward the Israeli city of Ashkelon and were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system. The attack prompted the Israeli retaliation. In a separate tweet, the army said its fighter jets struck a Hamas tunnel in Gaza.
In Jerusalem earlier in the day, Palestinians hurled rocks, other heavy objects and firecrackers from the hilltop mosque site, which is Islam’s third-holiest. Israeli police stormed the mount, firing stun grenades and rubber bullets. The Associated Press reported that more than 300 Palestinians, 21 Israeli police officers and seven Israeli civilians were hurt.
The site, known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram-as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, is the most contested piece of land in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has been a frequent setting for violence. It’s located in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians seek as the capital of a future state, over Israel’s objections.
The Palestinians and most of the international community consider east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in the 1967 Middle East war, to be occupied territory.
As Jerusalem seethed, Gaza militants again launched rockets and flaming balloons into southern Israel, setting fires but causing no injuries. The rocket fire led authorities to revise the flight paths of air traffic headed to Ben-Gurion International Airport, the Kan broadcaster reported.
The Israeli military ordered the closing of roads adjacent to Gaza, and the cancellation of some trains in the country’s south. A military drill scheduled for Tuesday was also canceled “to focus all efforts on preparations and readiness for escalation scenarios.”
The escalating clashes coincided with Israel’s celebration of Jerusalem Day, marking its capture of the city’s eastern sector from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war. The day is traditionally a fraught one as a parade by Jewish nationalists cuts through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, in a display of Israeli hegemony that Palestinians deplore.
Israeli officials allowed the parade to go ahead. But in an effort to de-escalate tensions, police barred Jewish visitors from the hilltop compound and later changed the route of the parade to skirt the Muslim neighborhood, instead planning to divert marchers to the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, which is at the foot of the mount.
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