Israeli air strikes kill 20 in Gaza, Palestinians say after militants fired rockets at Jerusalem

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© Reuters. Israeli police are gathering in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10, 2021 when they clash with Palestinians on the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount

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By Jeffrey Heller and Nidal al-Mughrabi

JERUSALEM / GAZA (Reuters) – Violent clashes over Jerusalem escalated dramatically on Monday. Gaza health officials said at least 20 people, including nine children, were killed in Israeli air strikes after Palestinian militant groups fired rockets near Jerusalem

The Israeli 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 the “red line” for the first time since a 2014 war by they shot at the Jerusalem area.

The rocket fire and Israeli air strikes lasted late into the night. Palestinians reported loud explosions near Gaza City and over the coastline. Just before midnight local time, the Israeli military said Palestinian militants had fired around 150 rockets at Israel, dozens of which were intercepted by its missile defense systems.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel should stop “immediately”. He urged all sides to take steps to ease tension.

Monday began with early morning clashes in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the heart of Jerusalem’s walled old city on what is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary – the most sensitive place in the Israeli-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 on the premises. According to the police, 21 officers were injured in the fighting.

The rise in violence came as Israel celebrated “Jerusalem Day,” marking the conquest of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

To ease tensions, police changed the route of a traditional Jerusalem Day march, during which thousands of Jewish youths with Israeli flags were slated to walk through the old city near the Damascus Gate, a focal point, over the past few weeks.

Although the issues had subsided by mid-morning, there were other tensions, including the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, north of the Old City, where several Palestinian families have long been evicted from homes claimed by Jewish settlers. ongoing litigation.

Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, has requested Israel remove the police from Al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah and set a deadline of 6:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) for forces to withdraw.

Even as the protesters were diverted to the Jaffa Gate, sirens sounded alerting Israelis to missiles from Gaza and forcing protesters and other Israelis to take cover in Jerusalem, nearby cities, and Israeli communities near Gaza to flee.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern part, which it annexed after the 1967 war, in a move that has not received international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they are looking for in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Tensions had built up for weeks during the holy month of Muslims in Ramadan as clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters sparked international concern that events might get out of hand.[L8N2MX0K2]

Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group took responsibility for the rocket fire on Jerusalem.

Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, said he had “launched a rocket attack against the enemy in occupied Jerusalem in response to their crimes and aggression against the holy city and their aggression against our people in Sheikh Jarrah and Al-Aqsa Mosque started “. “

In response, Netanyahu said: “The terrorist organizations crossed a red line on Jerusalem Day and attacked us on the outskirts of Jerusalem.”

He added: “Israel will react very vigorously. We will not tolerate attacks on our territory, our capital, our citizens and our soldiers. Anyone who beats us will pay a heavy price.”

VIOLENCE AROUND AL-AQSA MOSQUE

For Hamas, some commentators said, its challenge to Israel is a sign to the Palestinians that, instead of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, it is now in charge of holding Israel accountable for events in Jerusalem.

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said at least six of the rockets fired from Gaza were fired towards the outskirts of Jerusalem, where a house was hit. No casualties were reported.

“We have started to attack Hamas military targets,” said Conricus in a briefing to reporters and did not set a timeframe for an Israeli offensive. “Hamas will pay a heavy price.”

He said the military is looking into reports that children have been killed.

“We have had several incidents involving rockets fired by terrorists from Gaza. This could be the same,” said Conricus.

Along the fortified Gaza-Israel border, a Palestinian anti-tank missile fired from the tiny coastal area hit a civilian vehicle and injured an Israeli, he said.

After hearing about the deaths in Gaza, President Abbas decided to cancel the celebrations for the upcoming Eid El-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and to limit them to religious rituals only, according to a statement released by the official WAFA news agency.

The report also said he decided to lower the flags to half mast “to mourn the souls of the martyrs of our people killed in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza”.

International efforts to contain the violence appear to have already begun. A Palestinian official told Reuters that Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations, which have previously brokered ceasefires between Israel and Hamas, have been in contact with the group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh.

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