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Tension in Jerusalem triggers exchange of fire between Gaza and Israel

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired about three dozen rockets at Israel, while the Israeli military counteracted targets operated by the ruling Hamas group

JERUSALEM – Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip towards Israel resumed on Saturday night after a one-day break, despite calls for calm from the United Nations and threats by Israeli leaders of fierce retaliation. Tensions in Jerusalem as the Palestinians clashed with the Israeli police and far-right Jewish groups sparked the biggest violence on the border in months between Israel and Gaza.

Militants fired a rocket at the southern Israeli city of Sderot and was intercepted by air defenses, the military said.

Earlier on Saturday, militants in the Gaza Strip fired about three dozen rockets at Israel, while the Israeli military counterattacked targets operated by the ruling Hamas group.

The flurry of rockets came when hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli police in eastern Jerusalem. The clashes, in which at least four police officers and six protesters were wounded, became an overnight occurrence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and show no signs of stopping.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had spoken to senior security officials about Gaza and Jerusalem. He said he instructed the authorities to be ready for “all scenarios” in Gaza. In Jerusalem, he said Israel would guarantee “freedom of worship” for everyone and called for calm. “We are now asking people to obey the law and I ask for a temper to alleviate on all sides.”

The UN envoy to the region, Tor Wennesland, condemned the violence and said the United Nations is working with all sides to restore calm.

“The provocative acts in Jerusalem must cease. The indiscriminate launching of rockets against Israeli population centers violates international law and must stop immediately, ”he said. “I reiterate my call on all sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further escalation, especially during the holy month of Ramadan and in this politically charged period for everyone.

Meanwhile, the Israeli chief of staff, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, is evaluating “a series of steps for possible responses” and preparations should the situation continue to get worse, the military said in a statement. He also postponed a trip to the United States that was scheduled for Sunday.

The United States also called for calm, while neighboring Jordan, which serves as guardian of Jerusalem’s holy Muslim sites, condemned Israel’s actions.

Jerusalem, home to sacred sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims, has long been a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2014, similar tensions erupted in a 50-day war between Israel and Gaza’s ruling militant group, Hamas.

The Israeli military said a total of 36 rockets were fired at Israel overnight. According to the agency, six rockets were intercepted, while most of the others landed in open areas. There were no reports of injuries or serious damage, but the rocket launch fired air raid sirens across southern Israel.

In response, the army said fighters and helicopters hit several Hamas targets in Gaza, including an underground facility and rocket launchers. Hamas has not taken responsibility for the launch of rockets, but Israel holds the group responsible for all shots fired from the territory.

The military imposed limits on open-air meetings in southern Israel early Saturday, but lifted restrictions several hours later and allowed people to resume their normal routines.

Israel and Hamas, an Islamic group that has vowed to destroy Israel, are staunch enemies who have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007

While neither side appears to have an interest in raising tensions, Hamas sees itself as the defender of Jerusalem and may feel compelled to act, or at least tacitly encourage rocket attacks by other groups, before the next Palestinian parliamentary elections. Hamas’ armed wing warned Israel not to “test” its patience.

At dawn, hundreds of people in Gaza defied the night curfews imposed by Hamas to contain the coronavirus outbreak and took to the streets in an act of solidarity with fellow Palestinians in Jerusalem, burning tires.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. His fate has been one of the most contentious issues in the peace process, which was halted more than a decade ago.

Palestinians clash with the Israeli police every night since the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, almost two weeks ago.

Tensions began when the police placed barricades outside the Damascus Gate of the Old City, where Muslims traditionally gather to enjoy the evening after the day’s fast.

The clashes intensified on Thursday night, when hundreds of Palestinians threw stones and bottles at the police, who fired a water cannon and stunning grenades to disperse them. Dozens of Palestinians were injured in the confusion.

At the same time, a far-right Jewish group known as Lahava led a march of hundreds of protesters shouting “Arabs get out!” towards the Damascus Gate. The group, led by a disciple of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, is allied with elements of a far-right party elected to Israel’s parliament last month.

The show of strength came in response to videos that circulated on TikTok showing Palestinians randomly beating religious Jews. Other videos made in response to them appear to show Jews attacking Arabs. After keeping them a few hundred meters (meters) away from the Damascus Gate, the police used water cannons, stunning grenades and mounted police to push the far right demonstrators back to Jerusalem, mostly Jewish.

In all, the police said 44 people were arrested and 20 policemen were injured.

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