On Saturday, tensions in Jerusalem triggered the worst round of cross-border violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip in months, with Palestinian militants launching at least 30 rockets and Israel retaliating against Hamas targets in Gaza.
Jerusalem, which has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, has seen an increase in clashes in recent days.
As police beefed up security and the US Embassy pleaded for calm, residents braced for further unrest.
In a night of chaos in Jerusalem on Friday, Israeli police said 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were injured, with security forces clashing with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who organized an anti-Arab march nearby.
The events in Jerusalem sparked a conflict in Gaza.
Late Friday, Hamas’ armed wing cautioned Israel not to “test” its patience, and militants in the Palestinian enclave began firing rockets into southern Israel, which continued into Saturday morning.
The Israeli military said those rocket launchers and unspecified underground facilities for Hamas were hit by Israeli aircraft and tanks.
While the militant group denied responsibility for the rocket attacks, a small military formation associated with the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for some of the missiles.
In southern Israel, sirens warning of incoming rockets from Gaza continued to blare. Some of the rockets were intercepted by air defences.
There were no injuries reported on either side.
Hundreds of people in Gaza defied Hamas’ nighttime curfews enforced to combat the coronavirus outbreak, taking to the streets and burning tyres in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Following Friday noon prayers at a major holy site in Jerusalem, there were fears that violence would flare up again, but thousands of worshippers dispersed peacefully after Muslim religious leaders called for restraint.
However, hundreds of Palestinians marched towards an entrance to Jerusalem’s walled Old City in the evening, clashing with Israeli police, who said the demonstrators threw stones and other objects at them.
Six Palestinians were wounded, with two of them being taken to the hospital.
Since the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Palestinians have been clashing with Israeli police every night.
The tensions started when police erected barricades outside the Damascus Gate in the Old City, where Muslims usually meet to celebrate the end of their day’s fast.
Hundreds of Palestinians threw stones and bottles at police, who used a water cannon and stun grenades to disperse them on Thursday evening. During the brawl, dozens of Palestinians were injured.
At the same time, a far-right Jewish party called Lahava led a march of hundreds of demonstrators towards the Damascus Gate, chanting “Arabs get out!”
The display of force was in response to videos that went viral on TikTok showing Palestinians randomly slapping religious Jews.
In addition to them, other videos tend to depict Jews attacking Arabs. Police used water cannon, stun bombs, and mounted police to drive far-right demonstrators back towards mostly Jewish west Jerusalem after holding them a few hundred yards away from Damascus Gate.
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be their future state’s capital. The fate has been one of the most contentious topics in the peace process, which has been deadlocked for more than a decade.
Jordan strongly denounced “racial attacks on Palestinians” early Saturday. “As the occupying force under international law, Israel is responsible for preventing these attacks & for the dangerous effects of failing to do so,” Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi tweeted.
The US Embassy expressed its “strong concern” about the recent abuse. In a statement, it said, “We hope that all responsible voices will encourage an end to incitement, a return to peace, and respect for the protection and dignity of all in Jerusalem.”
On Friday, tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered at the Al-Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem’s Old City for weekly prayers. The Temple Mount is the third holiest site in Islam and the third holiest site for Jews.
In his sermon, Jerusalem’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, condemned the “police and settlers’ assault on Palestinians in Jerusalem.”
However, he urged worshippers to maintain their composure and not give the opposing side an excuse to storm the compound. After prayers, they dispersed peacefully, and there were no immediate signs of unrest.
The sprawling hilltop compound has seen several clashes over the years and was the epicenter of the Palestinian intifada, or rebellion, in the year 2000.
Meanwhile, after Friday prayers, Hamas held demonstrations across Gaza, reiterating its support for armed struggle.
“After a long series of protests and demonstrations, we have come to the conclusion that we cannot liberate our country, secure our holy sites, return our people to their land, or preserve our integrity without weapons,” said senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar.
- Israel Gaza Strip: REUTERS