TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel’s air force and Palestinian militants traded fire across the Gaza frontier early Thursday as clashes erupted again at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, worsening an escalation that has been eerily similar to the lead-up to last year’s Israel-Gaza war.
The violence along the Gaza front, fueled by the unrest between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem, appears to be the heaviest cross-border fighting since last year’s 11-day war and comes despite efforts to prevent a repeat. The rocket fired this week from Gaza ended the months-long period that had been calmed by the war.
Two rockets were fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza Strip on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Israeli aircraft struck militant targets in the coastal, Hamas-ruled enclave. The Israeli military stated that one rocket was launched into the Israeli city of Sderot. This is a common target. A second fell short and landed directly in Gaza. The rockets set off sirens that activated air-raid sirens throughout southern Israel, interrupting the peace of the Passover holiday.
Local media reported that Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes on the central Gaza Strip early Thursday. Activists posted photos to social media showing smoke billowing through the air. According to the Israeli military, the strikes were directed at a militant site as well as the entrance to a tunnel that leads to an underground compound containing chemicals for rocket-making.
After an anti-aircraft ballistic missile from Gaza was fired, the military said that its planes attacked another Hamas compound. The missile did not hit its target, and there were no injuries or damages reported.
Following a series deadly attacks by Palestinians on Israelis, the latest tensions between Israel and Palestine boiled over. These raids were sometimes lethal and lasted for days. The military then launched days-long arrest raids in a West Bank flashpoint city. They spread to daily clashes at Jerusalem. The Muslim holy month Ramadan coincides with Passover this year. This is a time when many people visit Jerusalem and increase their religious observances.
Israeli police stated that several dozen masked protesters hid in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where they began throwing rocks at firecrackers and sealing the doors. Police said they attempted to disperse the Palestinians using “riot dispersal means,” without elaborating, and that forces did not enter the mosque itself.
The Waqf, a Palestinian authority that administers the site said large numbers police used stungrenades to clear it. He stated that stun-grenades were also used by police to kill Palestinians trapped in the mosque. He spoke only because he wasn’t authorized to talk about the incident with the media.
The Palestinian Red Crescent stated that 20 people had been injured and one of them was critically.
Similar clashes took place throughout the week. However, fiercer clashes broke out earlier in the month at the site, injuring more than 150 Palestinians as well as three police officers.