In another escalation of ongoing Israel-Palestine tensions, the Palestinian militants on Monday fired a rocket into southern Israel for the first time in months — first since the New Year.
The rocket-firing followed clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem that injured over 150 people, a series of deadly terrorist attacks inside Israel, and military raids across the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli authorities said they intercepted the rocket and there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage. Israel holds Gaza's militant Hamas rulers responsible for all such projectiles and usually launches airstrikes of their own following these rockets.
Early on Tuesday, Israeli fighter jets carried out a series of airstrikes in southern Gaza Strip, targeting a “weapons manufacturing site" for Hamas, the Israeli military said. There were no reports of injuries.
Hours earlier, the leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group, which boasts an arsenal of rockets, had issued a brief, cryptic warning, condemning Israeli “violations” in Jerusalem. Ziad al-Nakhala, who is based outside the Palestinian territories, said threats to tighten an Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza imposed after Hamas seized power 15 years ago “can't silence us from what's happening in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank”.
However, no Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.
Palestinians and Israeli police clashed over the weekend in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, which has long been an epicenter of Israeli-Palestinian violence. It is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because the mosque stands on a hilltop where the Jewish temples were located in antiquity.
Protests and clashes there this time last year helped trigger an 11-day Gaza war.
Police said they were responding to Palestinian stone-throwing and that they were committed to ensuring that Jews, Christians and Muslims — whose major holidays are converging this year — could celebrate them safely in the Holy Land. Palestinians view the presence of Israeli police at the site as a provocation and said they used excessive force.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday said, ahead of the rocket fire, that Israel has been the target of a “Hamas-led incitement campaign".
The latest tensions come during the rare confluence of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover. Christians are also celebrating their holy week leading up to Easter. Tens of thousands of visitors have flocked to Jerusalem's Old City — home to major holy sites for all three faiths — for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Recent weeks have seen a series of Palestinian attacks inside Israel that killed 14 people. Israel has launched near-daily arrest raids and other military operations in the occupied West Bank that it says are aimed at preventing more such attacks.
The military on Monday said it arrested 11 Palestinians in operations across the territory overnight. In a raid near the city of Jenin, the army said dozens of Palestinians hurled rocks and explosives toward troops.
Soldiers “responded with live ammunition toward the suspects who hurled explosive devices”, the military said. The Palestinian Health Ministry said two men were hospitalised after being critically wounded.
Two of the recent attackers came from in and around Jenin, which has long been a bastion of armed struggle against Israeli rule.
At least 26 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in recent weeks, according to an Associated Press count. Many had carried out attacks or were involved in clashes, but an unarmed woman and a lawyer who appears to have been a bystander were also among those killed.
With AP inputs