Violence in Gaza increases as clashes in Jerusalem continue
Israeli air forces and Palestinian militants clashed across the Gaza border early Thursday as clashes erupted again in Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, exacerbating a future escalation. similar to the one that led to the Israel-Gaza war last year.
Violence in Gaza, fueled by unrest between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem, appears to be the heaviest cross-border fighting since last year’s 11-day war and comes despite efforts to prevent recurrence. A rocket fired from Gaza earlier this week was the first to be launched since the war.
The latest Israeli-Palestinian tensions flared up after a series of deadly Palestinian attacks against the Israelis, followed by multi-day, sometimes deadly, arrests raids by the army in a West Bank city and spread into daily clashes in Jerusalem. This year, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan coincides with Passover, a time when many people follow the religion and visit Jerusalem.
Palestinian militants fired two rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip late Wednesday and early Thursday, and Israeli planes hit militia targets in waters ruled by Hamas. The Israeli military said one rocket landed in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, a regular target, and another fell and landed in Gaza, the Israeli military said. The launches set off air raid sirens across parts of southern Israel, breaking the silence of Passover week.
Early on Thursday, Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes in the center of the Gaza Strip, local media reported. Social media posts by activists showed smoke billowing through the air. The Israeli military said the strikes targeted a militia site and the entrance of a tunnel leading to an underground complex containing chemicals for making missiles.
The military later said its planes hit another Hamas complex after an anti-aircraft missile was fired from Gaza. It said the missile failed to hit its target and no injuries or damage were reported.
In Jerusalem, Israeli police said dozens of masked protesters gathered at Al-Aqsa Mosque early Thursday, sealed doors and began hurling stones and firecrackers. Police said they tried to disperse the Palestinians using “violent means of dispersal”, without elaborating, and that the forces did not enter the mosque itself.
A Palestinian official from Waqf, which manages the site, said a lot of police used stun grenades to liberate the area. He said police also fired stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets at Palestinians who had sealed themselves inside the mosque. The official, who declined to be named, was not authorized to discuss the incident with the media.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 20 people were injured, one in critical condition.
Similar clashes have raged throughout the week, while more intense clashes broke out at the site earlier this month, injuring more than 150 Palestinians and three policemen.
Palestinians have accused Israeli police of using excessive force at the holy site, and Palestinian social media is flooded with videos showing Israeli forces attacking what appears to be unarmed Palestinians, including women. Police believe the Palestinians instigated the violence and have released their own video of young Palestinians hurling rocks and fireworks at security forces. Police say Palestinians are insulting their own temple and putting others in danger.
An emergency meeting of an Arab regional committee was convened in Jordan on Thursday about what it called “Israeli illegal policies and measures” in Jerusalem. It condemned Israel’s actions, calling them provocative and calling on Israel to ensure that only Muslims worship at the site.
The commission includes member states that have recently normalized relations with Israel, including the United Arab Emirates. The country’s top diplomat, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke by phone on Thursday. Al Nahyan called for stability, according to the United Arab Emirates’ state news agency WAM.
A US State Department delegation was also in the area to ensure calm.
The repeated scenes of rocket fire and violence in Jerusalem are reminiscent of last year’s war. Last year, violence also spread to mixed Jewish-Arab cities, something that has not happened in the current wave of unrest.
On Wednesday, hundreds of Israeli ultra-nationalists waved flags to march towards the predominantly Palestinian areas around Jerusalem’s Old City, a demonstration demonstrating Israel’s control over Jerusalem. with the disputed city was seen as a provocation by the Palestinians. Last year’s fighting broke out in a similar march, when Gaza militants, calling themselves defenders of Jerusalem, fired a barrage of rockets towards the holy city.
Those events, along with others, led to an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas that killed more than 250 Palestinians and 14 in Israel, and caused widespread damage in Gaza.
This year, Israeli police closed the main road leading to the Old City Gate of Damascus and the heart of the Muslim Quarter. After some shoving and jostling with police, marchers rallied near barricades, waving flags, singing and chanting.
Israeli nationalists organize such rallies to try to assert sovereignty over east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967, along with the West Bank and Gaza, and annexed in a move that would not be tolerated. internationally recognized. The Palestinians seek an independent state in all three territories and consider east Jerusalem as their capital.
The hilltop temple in the Old City was the emotional point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the center of earlier waves of violence. Referred to by Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, it is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site in Judaism, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, where their biblical temples are located.
Israel says it is maintaining the decades-old status quo at the site, which makes it impossible for Jews to pray there. But during this year’s Passover holiday, the number of visiting Jews has skyrocketed, and in some cases, Jews have prayed at the complex. Palestinians view the visits, accompanied by police escort, as a provocation and possibly a prelude to Israeli takeovers or partitions of it.
For Palestinians, the mosque compound, run by Muslim clerics, is also the rare place east of Israel-annexed Jerusalem that it has control over.
Palestinian militant groups in Gaza – ruling Hamas and the smaller jihadist organization – have positioned themselves as defenders of Jerusalem’s holy city. On Wednesday, Hamas said Israel would bear “full responsibility for the consequences” if it allowed marchers “access to our holy sites.”
Associated Press writers Fares Akram in Hamilton, Canada and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.