Israel bombs Gaza Strip as violence in Jerusalem draws global condemnation

The cross-border fire follows killings across Israel and the Palestinian territories

Israel bombed Gaza on Tuesday for the first time in months after militants fired a rocket from the Palestinian enclave, after tension and violence in Jerusalem.

The Israeli military said it fired on a “weapons manufacturing site” controlled by the militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

The strikes came hours after the military said it had intercepted a rocket launched from the Palestinian territory, the first since January 1.

There were no immediate reports of injuries from the cross-border fire, which follows a surge in violence in which dozens have been killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories.

On Tuesday, thousands of Israelis marched to a dismantled settlement deep in the occupied West Bank and called for it to be rebuilt in a show of strength amid a wave of unrest and fears of further escalation.

The army blocked roads to enable the march led by hard-line Jewish settlers and prevent Palestinians from reaching the area.

Dozens of Palestinian residents protested against the closures.

Clashes broke out, with Israeli soldiers firing rubber bullets and tear gas at Palestinian youths hurling stones and burning tyres.

Palestinian medics said they treated at least eight Palestinians who were struck by rubber bullets or tear gas canisters fired by Israeli troops in the adjacent West Bank village of Burqa.

Israelis have repeatedly returned to Homesh, a hilltop settlement that emerged as a symbol of settler defiance after the government dismantled it in 2005.

In East Jerusalem’s Old City, more than 150 people were wounded on Friday at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.

Such violence has drawn international condemnation and sparked a diplomatic row between Israel, which has occupied East Jerusalem since 1967, and the Jordanians who serve as custodians of the Muslim holy site.

Tensions have increased sharply in recent days as Christians, Jews and Muslims have marked holidays at the ancient city’s holy sites.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday said his government “is doing everything so that all peoples, as always, can celebrate the holidays safely”.

At least 153 people were wounded at Al Aqsa on Friday, medics from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said, with injuries from rubber bullets, stun grenades and assaults by Israeli security forces.

Israeli police said Palestinians at the holy site hurled rocks and fireworks at the force, wounding a number of officers.

Mr Bennett has assured the security forces they will “receive a free hand from the political echelon for any measure to ensure security for the citizens of Israel”.

His comments come after the killing of 14 people in four separate attacks by Arab-Israelis or Palestinians from the occupied West Bank in recent weeks.

Those incidents sparked widespread raids by the Israeli military in the West Bank, during which multiple Palestinians were detained or shot.

At least 14 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces across the West Bank this month.

Recent events have raised the spectre of full-scale conflict, as violence in Jerusalem a year ago preceded an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza militants.

Hamas’s military wing said Israeli strikes on Gaza, in response to the rocket fire, were a “failed attempt to prevent our Palestinian people from defending the city of Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque”.

Anger from Muslims all over the world

Al Aqsa is the third-holiest site in Islam and non-Muslims are allowed to visit the compound, but not pray or enter the mosque.

The incursion of heavily armed Israeli forces into the mosque, coupled with continuing visits by Jews to the compound during the holy month of Ramadan, has angered Palestinians and the wider Muslim world.

The site is revered in Judaism and stands above the Western Wall, which is the holiest site where Jews can pray.

Israeli buses heading to the Old City on Sunday were attacked by stone-throwing Palestinians, police said, wounding some passengers.

More than 20 people were treated by Palestinian medics on Sunday, in more violence around Al Aqsa between Palestinians and Israeli forces.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the country was calling “for Israel to immediately stop all its illegal actions and attacks” at Al Aqsa.

Amman on Monday summoned a senior Israeli diplomat over the affair, a move condemned by the Israeli Foreign Ministry as harming “efforts to bring about quiet in Jerusalem”.

The UN’s peace envoy to the region, Tor Wennesland, briefed the UN Security Council on the escalating violence on Tuesday, at closed-door talks called for by the UAE, Norway, Ireland and other members.

The council did not take any action.

After the talks, several European nations issued a statement saying the “violence needs to stop immediately” and condemning rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

"The deteriorating security situation highlights the need to restore a political horizon for a credible peace process,” said the statement from France, Estonia, Ireland, Albania and Norway.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN envoy, said that the council should “shoulder its responsibility with regard to doing everything possible to stop this aggression against our people” at the holy sites.

Oslo’s UN ambassador Mona Juul called for “restraint” on both sides.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced sadness over the violence at the flashpoint Al Aqsa Mosque compound in a phone call Tuesday with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, warning against threats to its status.

Mr Erdogan said on his official Twitter account that he told Mr Herzog: "The fact that Al Aqsa Mosque was raided by fanatic groups after the morning prayer yesterday and the day before ... and the spread of the tension to Gaza increased our sadness."

"These images, which are seen every year because of some radicals, hurt the consciences and cause justifiable reactions in the entire Islamic world," he said.

"In this sensitive period, I would like to emphasise once again the necessity of not allowing provocations and threats against the status and spirituality of Al Aqsa Mosque."

Mr Erdogan repeated his call for everyone to "make the utmost effort" to preserve the spirituality of the holy site.

On Sunday, Mr Erdogan said he told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he condemned Israel's "intervention on worshippers" and threats to its "status or spirit".

Updated: April 19, 2022, 8:23 PM
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