Jerusalem tensions spark a firefight between Israel and Gaza, despite Netanyahu’s pleas for calm.
Gaza Strip rocket fires toward Israel Saturday evening, after a day-long pause, amid United Nations appeals for calm and Israeli leaders’ threats to retaliate fiercely. Tensions in Jerusalem caused the heaviest cross-border violence between Israel and Gaza in months, as Palestinians clashed with Israeli police and far-right Jewish parties.
Militants launched a missile toward Sderot in southern Israel, the military said, but it was intercepted by air defenses.
Several dozen rockets were fired into Israel early Saturday by militants in the Gaza Strip, while the Israeli military retaliated against Hamas-run targets.
Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli police in east Jerusalem, prompting the barrage of rocket fire. At least four police officers and six demonstrators have been wounded in the clashes, which have become a nightly occurrence in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and show no signs of abating.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he discussed Gaza and Jerusalem with senior security officials. He said that he instructed officials in Gaza to be prepared for ‘any scenario.’ In Jerusalem, he declared that Israel would guarantee everyone’s ‘freedom of worship,’ and he pleaded for peace. “We are now pleading with people to follow the law, and I am pleading with both sides to cool their tempers.”
Tor Wennesland, the United Nations’ envoy to the area, denounced the violence and stated that the United Nations was working with all parties to restore peace.
“The offensive activities occurring in Jerusalem must come to an end. The indiscriminate firing of rockets at Israeli population centers is a violation of international law that must be urgently halted, he said. “I reiterate my appeal to all parties to practice maximum restraint and avoid further escalation, particularly during the Holy month of Ramadan and this politically charged time for everyone.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli military said in a statement that its chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, is weighing “a sequence of measures for potential responses” and plans if the situation continued to deteriorate. He also canceled a Sunday trip to the United States.
The United States also urged calm, while Jordan, which serves as custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, condemned Israel’s actions.
Jerusalem has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to the presence of holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Similar tensions between Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group erupted into a 50-day war in 2014.
According to the Israeli military, 36 rockets were fired into Israel during the night. Six rockets were intercepted, while the majority of the remaining missiles landed in open areas. Although there were no reports of casualties or significant damage, the incoming rocket fire triggered air-raid sirens across southern Israel.
The army responded by claiming that fighter jets and helicopters bombed a number of Hamas targets in Gaza, including an underground facility and rocket launchers. While Hamas denied responsibility for the rocket fire, Israel holds the group accountable for all fire emanating from the territory.
The military enforced restrictions on outdoor gatherings in southern Israel early Saturday but later lifted them, allowing residents to resume their daily routines.
Israel and Hamas, an Islamic organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel, are bitter adversaries who have battled three wars and countless skirmishes since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.
Although neither side appears interested in increasing tensions, Hamas views itself as Jerusalem’s defender and may feel compelled to act, or at the very least tacitly promote rocket attacks by other parties, ahead of the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections. The armed wing of Hamas has warned Israel not to “experiment” with its patience.
At dawn, hundreds of Gaza residents defied Hamas’s nighttime curfews in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak and took to the streets, burning tires, in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be their future state’s capital. The fate has been a source of contention in the peace process, which came to a grinding halt more than a decade ago.
Since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan nearly two weeks ago, Palestinians have clashed nightly with Israeli police.
Tensions started when police erected barricades outside the Damascus Gate in the Old City, where Muslims usually meet to celebrate the end of the day’s fast.
Thursday evening’s clashes erupted as hundreds of Palestinians threw stones and bottles at police, who dispersed them with a water cannon and stun grenades. During the melee, dozens of Palestinians were injured.
Simultaneously, a far-right Jewish party known as Lahava led a march of hundreds of demonstrators toward the Damascus Gate, chanting “Arabs get out!” The community, headed by a disciple of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, is affiliated with elements of a far-right party recently elected to Israel’s parliament.
The outburst was in response to videos circulated on TikTok depicting Palestinians randomly slapping religious Jews. Other videos produced in response tend to depict Jews attacking Arabs. After relocating them a few hundred yards (meters) from Damascus Gate, police used water cannon, stun grenades, and mounted police to reroute far-right demonstrators toward predominantly Jewish west Jerusalem.
Police reported that 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were injured in total.