Nine people killed in Israeli air strikes, says health ministry

More than 300 Palestinians injured after violence erupts at al-Aqsa mosque on Jerusalem Day

Palestinians and Israeli police have clashed outside al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, in on-going violence in Jerusalem that has raised international concern. Video: Reuters

 

Nine Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air strikes in the Palestinian territory after the barrages against Israel, the Gaza health ministry has said. The Israeli military issued no immediate comment on any action it had taken in the enclave.

The militant group Hamas fired rockets on Monday afternoon into Israel from Gaza just minutes after the passing of its ultimatum for Israel to withdraw security forces from both the Jerusalem compound that is home to the al-Aqsa mosque and the Old City’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

Residents of the city reported hearing air raid sirens shortly after 6pm local time when the ultimatum was due to expire, and the sound of three distant explosions, although it was not clear if the detonations were rockets exploding or anti-rocket systems being deployed.

Air raid sirens were also reported near the coastal city of Ashkelon. Israeli television later showed damage to a house in Mevesaret Zion, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, whose windows were reportedly damaged by rocket debris.

The Hamas ultimatum followed the latest clashes around the compound on Monday, which left more than 300 people injured. The latest violence came after Israeli police stormed the compound early on Monday, firing stun grenades and tear gas and clashing with Palestinians inside following days of worsening incidents.

Hamas’s military wing claimed responsibility for the rocket fire in a statement saying it struck Jerusalem in response to Israel’s “crimes and aggression in the Holy City, and its harassment of our people in Sheikh Jarrah and Al-Aqsa Mosque”.

“This is a message that the enemy should understand well,” said a spokesperson. Hamas’s escalation of the already dangerous crisis came as the Israeli military suspended its biggest military exercise in 30 years to redeploy its forces in fear of rocket attacks from Gaza.

Israel also ordered roads near Gaza closed, while the mayor of Ashkelon ordered public bomb shelters to be opened. Flights into Ben Gurion airport were also reportedly diverted to a northern flight path away from Gaza.

Clashes

Earlier, Palestinian protesters threw rocks and Israeli police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes outside al-Aqsa mosque , as Israel marked the anniversary of its capture of parts of the city in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said at least 305 Palestinians were injured in the violence, and 228 of them were taken to hospital. Several of the Palestinians were in critical condition and police said 21 officers were injured.

Al-Aqsa, which is Islam’s third-holiest site, has been a focal point of violence in Jerusalem throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and the clashes have raised international concern about wider conflict.

The White House had called on Israel to ensure calm during “Jerusalem Day”, its annual celebration of the capture of East Jerusalem and the walled Old City that is home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites.

In an effort to ease the situation, Israeli police banned Jewish groups from paying Jerusalem Day visits to the holy plaza that houses al-Aqsa, and which Jews revere as the site of biblical Jewish temples.

But a traditional Jerusalem Day march in which thousands of Israeli flag-waving Jewish youth walk through the Old City’s Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter looked set to go ahead.

At al-Aqsa, police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at hundreds of Palestinians who hurled rocks at them in the morning, witnesses said.

The violence at the holy compound abated several hours later and witnesses said Israeli police pulled back and began allowing Palestinians over the age of 40, deemed less likely to take part in confrontations, to enter.

Law and order

In public remarks, prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was determined to uphold law and order in Jerusalem while preserving “freedom of worship and tolerance for all”.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, accused “Israeli occupation forces” of conducting a “brutal raid” at al-Aqsa.

Israel views all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern part that it annexed in a move that has not won international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they seek in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Tensions have also been fuelled by the planned evictions of several Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.

Israel’s attorney-general secured a deferment on Sunday of a Supreme Court hearing on Monday in the long-running evictions case that had threatened to stoke more violence.

A lower court had found in favour of Jewish settlers’ claim to the land on which the Palestinians’ homes are located, a decision seen by Palestinians as an attempt by Israel to drive them out of contested Jerusalem.

National security adviser in the United States Jake Sullivan expressed “serious concerns” about the situation in Jerusalem, including the potential evictions, in a call with his Israeli counterpart on Sunday.

United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres also expressed on Sunday his concern over the situation. The UN Security Council has scheduled closed consultations on the soaring tensions in Jerusalem. Diplomats said the meeting was requested by Tunisia, the Arab representative on the council.

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, who have condemned Israeli actions in Jerusalem, fired at least three rockets towards Israel on Monday, after launching four projectiles a day earlier, the Israeli military said.

No casualties or damage were reported.

Israel responded to Sunday’s attack with tank fire against positions belonging to Hamas, the militant Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip. – Reuters, Associated Press, Guardian