Palestinian rocket fire, Israeli air strikes in Gaza run into second day

At least 22 killed in Gaza as Israeli military prepare for wider conflict with Hamas

Residents of Gaza City have awoken to scenes of damage and scattered debris after a night of fire exchange between Israel and Palestinian militants. Video: David Dunne

 

Palestinians fired uninterrupted barrages of rockets into Israel as its military pounded Gaza with air strikes through the early hours of Tuesday, in violent clashes in Jerusalem that have continued into a second day.

Explosions shook buildings throughout Gaza and rocket sirens sent Israelis in many southern towns scurrying for shelter overnight. Two Palestinians were killed overnight and more than 100 wounded in air strikes, Palestinian officials said. Six Israelis were wounded by a rocket, medics said.

At least 20 people were killed in Gaza on Monday, including nine children. Israel denied responsibility for the children’s deaths, saying a Hamas rocket which fell short caused the deaths.

Egypt and Qatar began mediation efforts to stop the conflict escalating further but the Israeli military ruled out an immediate truce.

Rockets are fired from Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, towards Israel on Tuesday. Photogaph: Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty
Rockets are fired from Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, towards Israel on Tuesday. Photogaph: Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty

“In the next few days, Hamas will feel the long arm of the Israeli army. It won’t take a few minutes, it will take a few days,” said military spokesman Hidai Zilberman.

He said the military is preparing for a wide range of possibilities, including a wider conflict with a ground operation, as well as a return of targeted killings of top militant leaders.

“Everything is on the table,” he said.

Reports from Gaza said militant fighters had gone underground.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the rocket fire, saying that it was “in response to [Israeli] crimes and aggression against the holy city [Jerusalem] and harassment of our people in Sheikh Jarrah and the Al-Aqsa mosque”.

One projectile landed close to a home in a community close to Jerusalem.

Late on Monday night the EU called on both sides to cease hostilities. “The significant upsurge in violence in the occupied West Bank, including in East Jerusalem as well as in and around Gaza needs to stop immediately,” it said.

Palestinian medics evacuate wounded protesters as Israeli security forces fire tear gas in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images
Palestinian medics evacuate wounded protesters as Israeli security forces fire tear gas in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

In a statement posted on its website, it said the firing of rockets from Gaza against civilian populations in Israel is “totally unacceptable and feeds escalatory dynamics”.

It said all leaders had a responsibility to act against extremists. “The status quo of the holy sites must be fully respected.

“We reiterate our call on all sides to engage in de-escalatory efforts. Further civilian casualties must be prevented as a priority,” the statement said.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simoon Coveney on Twitter condemned the firing of rockets and said there is a need for “strong engagement” from the international community with Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

He told RTÉ News Ireland had co-sponsored a debate on the issue in the United Nations Security Council and said he had raised the matter during Monday’s meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels.

Ultimatum

Monday’s upsurge in violence came after Israel refused an ultimatum from Gaza’s Hamas rulers to withdraw its forces from the flashpoint Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) area of Jerusalem’s Old City, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, site of the Al-Aqsa mosque, and from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood where Palestinian families are threatened with eviction from their homes.

The ultimatum came after more than 300 Palestinians, along with more than 20 Israeli police officers, were hurt in renewed clashes on Monday in Jerusalem, which has seen days of violent clashes. The police had earlier closed off the Harm al-Sharif area in an effort to ease tensions – an effort which appeared to have backfired.

Israelis take part in the annual Jerusalem Day march on Monday. Photograph: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images
Israelis take part in the annual Jerusalem Day march on Monday. Photograph: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier, police diverted a march by Jewish nationalists away from the flashpoint Damascus Gate entrance to the historic Old City and the Muslim quarter, prompting the organisers to cancel the annual Flag March procession, which the Palestinians view as a provocation.

Reinforcements

Massive police reinforcements were sent to Jerusalem and the army also beefed up its forces in the West Bank.

The Gaza border had witnessed an upsurge in violence over the last few days with sporadic rocket fire into Israel and a resumption of the launching of incendiary balloons which caused widespread destruction of Israeli crops.

In response to the Hamas ultimatum Israel braced itself for the possibility of rocket fire from Gaza towards central Israel. Planes entering and leaving Israel were diverted north of Ben Gurion international airport, further away from Gaza.

The army ordered all schools within a 40km radius of Gaza to close on Tuesday. – Additional reporting Reuters