Twenty-four people, including nine children, have died in Gaza, the enclave’s Health Ministry announced, following overnight airstrikes by the Israeli army, which accused Palestinian militants of firing more than 200 rockets.
After weeks of intense violence in Jerusalem, Hamas, an Islamist group that rules inside Gaza, fired a barrage of rockets into the holy city on Monday night, believed to be the first time it has attacked the city in more than seven years.
In Gaza, health officials said seven of the deaths were members of a single family, including three children, who were killed in an explosion. It was unclear whether the explosion was caused by an Israeli airstrike or a short-landed rocket.
The Israeli army said it had killed 15 Hamas “operatives” and a Hamas battalion commander. Israeli doctors reported that six Israeli civilians were injured by rocket fire, including those injured by broken glass and shrapnel.
In recent weeks, there has been a sharp escalation of anger around Israel’s half-century occupation and its deepening military grip on Palestinian life. In Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians have been injured in near-night protests that escalated over the weekend and spread to other areas of Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Israeli police have responded with stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets. On Monday morning, despite calls for calm from the United States, Europe and elsewhere, riot control officers stormed the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and clashed with the worshipers.
Jerusalem has long been the center of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, with its religious sites revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims. The al-Aqsa Mosque is built on an enclosure that is the holiest site in Judaism, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Palestinians have complained about what they say are unnecessarily severe restrictions on evening gatherings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Meanwhile, anger has been building for weeks among Palestinians over an Israeli court case over whether Israeli authorities can evict dozens of Palestinians from an Arab-majority Jerusalem neighborhood and give up their homes to Jewish settlers.
That decision, scheduled for Monday, was delayed, but on the same day a provocative annual parade of thousands of Israeli nationalists was held in the city. Jerusalem Day celebrates Israel’s capture of the entire city, including the Old City and Palestinian neighborhoods, from Jordanian forces in 1967.
Speaking on Monday night after the Gaza’s first rockets were fired, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the militants had “crossed a red line and hit us with missiles on the outskirts of Jerusalem.”
He added: “Israel will respond with great force… I tell you, citizens of Israel, the current conflict could continue for some time. We do not seek climbing, but whoever chooses to climb will feel the weight of our arm. “
In a statement released Tuesday morning, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the rocket attacks would continue until Israel stops “all scenes of terrorism and aggression in Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa mosque.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism