Violent clashes over Jerusalem developed dramatically on Monday with Gaza health officials reporting at least 20 people, including nine children, were killed by Israeli air strikes launched after Palestinian militant groups fired rockets close to Jerusalem
Israel’s military said it carried out strikes against armed groups, rocket launchers and military posts in Gaza after militants there crossed what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “red line” by firing on the Jerusalem area for the first time since a 2014 war.
The rocket fire and Israeli air strikes resumed late into the night, with Palestinians reporting loud explosions close to Gaza City and across the coastal strip. Shortly before midnight local time, Israel’s military said Palestinian militants had fired around 150 rockets into Israel, of which dozens were intercepted by its missile defense systems.
Monday began with early-morning confrontations at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the heart of Jerusalem’s walled Old City on the compound known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary – the most sensitive site in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said more than 300 Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli police, who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas in the compound. Police said 21 officers were hurt in the skirmishes.
The upsurge in violence came as Israel celebrated “Jerusalem Day”, marking its capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
But although the trouble had died down by mid-morning, there were other focal points of tension, including the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem just north of the Old City where several Palestinian families face eviction from homes claimed by Jewish settlers in a long-running legal case.
Demanding that Israel remove its police from Al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah, Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, set a 6 p.m. (1500 GMT) deadline for the forces to be withdrawn.
Israel views all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern part that it annexed after the 1967 war in a move that has not won international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem for the capital of a state they seek in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Tension had been building for weeks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, amid clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters prompting international concern that events could spiral out of control.
After learning of the deaths in Gaza, President Abbas decided to cancel celebrations of the upcoming Eid El-Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan, and limit them to religious rituals only, according to a statement published by the official WAFA news agency.
International efforts to stem the violence appeared to have already begun. A Palestinian official told Reuters that Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations, which have mediated truces between Israel and Hamas in the past, were in contact with the group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh.