Palestinian militants today fired rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, launching a series of airstrikes against the Islamist-ruled enclave of Hamas. the tensions in the holy places in Jerusalem.
Last Wednesday night, a rocket, the second this week, was fired from the Gaza Strip and landed in a field in the Israeli community of Sderot (south), without causing injuries.
The Israeli army responded by launching a series of airstrikes in a central area of the small, highly populated (2.3 million) Palestinian area, according to eyewitnesses and sources close to the security forces.
“Israeli warplanes have targeted military positions and the entrance to a tunnel leading to an underground complex where chemicals used to launch rockets are stored,” the Israeli General Staff said in a statement.
“The blows in the Gaza Strip will increase the determination of our people and the resistance (…) to defend our holy sites in Jerusalem, regardless of the sacrifices,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasim said in a press release. .
Following the retaliatory strikes, four more rockets were fired at Israel, but were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, according to the General Staff. Air defense sirens sounded overnight in Israeli communities around the Gaza Strip.
The second exchange of fire this week, the deadliest since the end of the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in May 2021, came after weekend incidents between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in Temple Square, the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site of Judaism, known as the Temple Mount in Jewish tradition.
The presence of Jewish worshipers – who can visit the square conditionally at certain times, but not pray there – and a strong police force during Ramadan was seen as a provocative gesture by Palestinians as well as Muslim countries in the region.
The Israeli police prevented yesterday evening a thousand and more extreme demonstrators to approach the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s old town, to avoid episodes that could trigger new escalation of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian movements.
Nationalist groups had called for a long march to the old city, where the Square of Mosques is located, a mobilization that the Israeli government described as a “challenge”.
Protesters with Israeli flags gathered yesterday afternoon in Chahal Square, near the town hall, opposite the old town. Hundreds of protesters tried to reach the gate of Damascus, the main entrance to the Muslim quarter. But the police stopped them. Among the protesters were several supporters of far-right MP Itamar Ben Gwir, who had previously been explicitly denied access by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
“I will not allow a political provocation by Ben Gwir to endanger Israeli soldiers and police and further complicate our mission,” he said.
“I say it clearly (…), I’m not going to comply,” said Ben Gvir. “By what law am I not allowed to pass through the gate of Damascus?”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem,” his spokesman in New York said. “It is in contact with all parties to reduce tensions and prevent arson and rhetoric.”
More than 170 people were injured in clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police on Friday and Sunday, during the Jewish holiday of Passover and Ramadan.