World leaders have condemned the violence
Israel launched deadly air strikes on Gaza Monday in response to a barrage of rockets fired by Hamas amid spiralling violence sparked by unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Twenty-one Palestinians, including nine children, have been killed and 65 wounded in Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
The air raids were carried out after Hamas, the paramilitary group in control of the Gaza strip, fired rockets into Israel after it refused to withdraw from the Temple Mount and Shaikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Several rockets were launched, but most were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defence system.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Hamas had crossed a “red line” by directing missiles towards Jerusalem and that the Jewish state would “respond with force”. “We will not tolerate attacks on our territory, our capital, our citizens and our soldiers. Those who attack us will pay a heavy price.”
Israel’s army said Tuesday that it had hit 130 “military targets” in Gaza, killing 15 “Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives” in retaliatory strikes. “We have struck 130 military targets belonging mostly to Hamas,” Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters. “According to our current estimates we have killed 15 Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives,” he said.
Tensions in Jerusalem, which is considered a holy site for Jews, Muslims and Christians, have been running high since Israeli riot police attacked Palestinian worshippers on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramazan in the city’s worst disturbances since 2017.
Nightly unrest since then at the Al-Aqsa compound has left hundreds of Palestinians wounded, drawn calls for de-escalation from the international community and sharp rebukes from across the Muslim world.
Adding to the sense of chaos, a huge fire engulfed trees in the compound that houses the mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, and the Golden Dome on the Temple Mount sacred to Jews.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, earlier Monday warned Israel to withdraw all its forces from the mosque compound and the east Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah, where looming evictions of Palestinian families have fuelled angry protests.
Sirens wailed across Jerusalem just after the 1500 GMT deadline set by Hamas as people in Jerusalem, including lawmakers in the Knesset legislature, evacuated into bunkers, amid warnings over loudspeakers.
A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing the Qassam Brigades said that “a volley of rockets was fired towards the enemy in occupied Jerusalem in response to its crimes and aggression on the holy city and repression of its residents in Sheikh Jarrah and the Al-Aqsa mosque”.
“This is a message that the enemy must understand well: if you respond we will respond, and if you escalate we will escalate.”
The United States said it “condemns in the strongest terms the barrage of rocket attacks fired into Israel in recent hours. This is an unacceptable escalation.”
A house in Beit Nekofa, about 10 kilometres (six miles) west of central Jerusalem, was also damaged by rocket fire, AFP TV reported.
The Israeli army said on Twitter that, separate to the rockets, “as a result of an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza, an Israeli civilian in a nearby vehicle was lightly injured” in the Gaza border area.
Fears of further chaos in the Old City had temporarily eased when Israeli organisers of a march to celebrate the Jewish state’s 1967 capture of east Jerusalem cancelled the event.
But then came the Hamas warning, followed by the rockets, which also forced the evacuation of the Wailing Wall and other sites.
Militants in Gaza have recently also deployed incendiary balloons that have sparked dozens of fires in Israeli territory.
In Monday’s Al-Aqsa violence, as during the previous nights since Friday, Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli officers in riot gear who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas.
Loud booms and angry screams echoed from the ancient stone walls of the compound, where Palestinians built makeshift barricades and the ground was littered with rocks, stun grenade fragments and other debris.
The Palestinian Red Crescent put the toll from Monday’s clashes at 331 injured, including more than 200 who were hospitalised, five of them in critical condition. The Israeli police, on the other hand, reported nine injuries in their ranks.
The violence since Friday has been fuelled by a long-running bid by Jewish settlers to evict several Palestinian families from their nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
A Supreme Court hearing on a Palestinian appeal in the case originally set for Monday was pushed back by the justice ministry due to the tensions.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas condemned what he called Israel’s “barbaric aggression”.