STREAKS OF LIGHT FILL THE SKY ABOVE ASHKELON AS ISRAEL'S ANTI-MISSILE SYSTEM INTERCEPTS ROCKETS LAUNCHED FROM THE GAZA STRIP ON MONDAY.
Jerusalem sees worst violence in years
Hamas fired dozens of rockets at the Jerusalem area and southern Israel on Monday, and Israeli jets retaliated, as weeks of confrontations exploded on two fronts.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Gaza militants of crossing a “red line” with the rocket attacks and warned that “we won't put up with harm done to our land, our capital, our citizens and our soldiers.” He predicted that the current round of violence could last for “some time.”
Two houses outside Jerusalem were slightly damaged and an antitank missile struck a car in southern Israel, slightly wounding one person, Israeli officials and media said. The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said that 20 Palestinians were killed, including 9 children, with 65 injured.
The start of the rocket fire coincided with a 6 p.m. deadline Hamas had set for Israel to vacate the Al-Aqsa mosque, a Jerusalem shrine that hours earlier had been the site of one of the most serious clashes between Israel and the Palestinians in years.
Israeli officials said more than 50 rockets were fired.
“Al-Qassem Brigades are now firing missiles against the enemy in occupied Jerusalem in response to its crimes and aggression against the holy city and the harassment of our people in Sheikh Jarrakh and the AlAqsa Mosque,” a spokesman for Hamas's military wing, Abu Obeidah, said in a statement after the initial volley.
Sheikh Jarrakh is a traditionally Arab neighbourhood in east Jerusalem that has become a recent flashpoint for violence over Israeli plans to evict some longtime Palestinian residents from their homes.
The U.S. said it was continuing to closely monitor the violence. “We have serious concerns about the situation,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
Jerusalem has been experiencing its worst unrest in years since the beginning of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan more than three weeks ago. Israeli restrictions on gathering at a traditional Ramadan meeting place outside the Old City touched off the tensions, but after they were lifted, protests were rekindled by the threatened evictions.
Israel's Foreign Ministry accused Palestinian leaders of stirring up riots.
Air raid sirens pierced the air over Jerusalem for the first time since 2014, and the mosque compound, which is also the site of the biblical Jewish temple, was vacated, as was the Parliament building, Israel media reported. In the late evening, firecrackers set off by Palestinians at the mosque plaza touched off a blaze, police said.
Overnight Monday, the Israeli army said another barrage of rockets from Gaza was fired toward the Israeli city of Ashkelon and were intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.