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Violence in Gaza escalates as clashes resume in Jerusalem

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TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel’s air force and Palestinian militants exchanged fire across the Gaza Strip border early Thursday as…

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – Israel’s air force and Palestinian militants exchanged fire across the Gaza Strip border early Thursday as renewed clashes erupted at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, worsening an escalation eerily similar to that seen in the run-up to last year’s Israel – gaza war.

Violence along the Gaza frontline, fueled by 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. A missile fired from Gaza this week shattered a months-long lull that followed the war.

Palestinian militants fired two rockets from Gaza at Israel late Wednesday and early Thursday, and Israeli planes hit militant targets in the Hamas-ruled seaside enclave. One missile landed in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, a frequent target, and another missed its target and landed in Gaza, the Israeli military said. The launches set off air raid sirens in parts of southern Israel and disrupted the calm of the Passover holiday week.

Early on Thursday, Israeli warplanes flew airstrikes in the central Gaza Strip, local media reported. Social media posts by activists showed smoke in the air. The Israeli military said the airstrikes targeted a militant site and the entrance of a tunnel leading to an underground complex containing chemicals used to make rockets.

The military later said its planes attacked another Hamas compound after an anti-aircraft missile was fired from the Gaza Strip. It said the missile failed to hit its target and no injuries or damage were reported.

Recent Israeli-Palestinian tensions have boiled over after a series of deadly attacks on Israelis by Palestinians, which then sparked days of detention raids by the military in a hotspot of the West Bank city and escalated into daily clashes in Jerusalem. This year, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan coincides with Passover, a time of heightened religious observance and visits by large numbers of people to Jerusalem.

Israeli police said dozens of masked protesters holed up inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque early Thursday, sealed the doors and started throwing stones and firecrackers. Police said they tried to disperse the Palestinians with “means of riot dispersal,” without elaborating, and that the forces did not enter the mosque itself.

A Palestinian official at the Waqf, which manages the site, said a large number of police officers used stun grenades to clear the site. He said police also fired stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets at Palestinians who had locked themselves in the mosque. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the incident with the media.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said there were casualties but did not immediately give a number.

Similar clashes took place throughout the week, while more violent clashes erupted at the compound earlier this month, injuring more than 150 Palestinians and three police officers.

Palestinians have accused Israeli police of using excessive force at the holy site, and Palestinian social media has been filled with videos showing Israeli forces attacking seemingly unarmed Palestinians, including women. Police say Palestinians are instigating the violence and have released their own videos showing young Palestinian men throwing rocks and firecrackers at security forces. Police say Palestinians are desecrating their own shrine and endangering others.

The scenes of rocket fire and repeated violence in Jerusalem have created scenes similar to those seen in the run-up to last year’s war. Violence has also spread to mixed Jewish-Arab cities in the past year, which has not happened in the current wave of unrest.

On Wednesday, hundreds of flag-waving Israeli ultra-nationalists marched towards the predominantly Palestinian areas surrounding Jerusalem’s Old City, a demonstration of Israeli control over the disputed city that Palestinians saw as a provocation. Last year’s war broke out during a similar march when Gaza militants who proclaimed themselves guardians of Jerusalem fired a barrage of rockets at the holy city.

That year, Israeli police blocked the main road leading to the Old City’s Damascus Gate and the heart of the Muslim Quarter. After some jostling with the police, the protesters gathered near the barricades, waving flags, chanting and chanting.

Israeli nationalists stage such marches to try to assert sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which Israel conquered and annexed along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 in an internationally unrecognized move. The Palestinians aspire to an independent state in all three territories and regard East Jerusalem as their capital.

A hilltop shrine in the Old City is the emotional zero point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the center of previous rounds of violence. Known to Muslims as Al-Aqsa Mosque, it is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site in Judaism, revered by the Jews as the Temple Mount, the site of their biblical temples.

Israel says it maintains a decades-old status quo at the site that prevents Jews from praying there. But during the Passover holiday this year, visits from Jews have skyrocketed and, in some cases, Jews have prayed on the premises. The Palestinians see the visits under police escort as a provocation and a possible prelude to a takeover or division of the site by Israel.

For the Palestinians, the mosque compound administered by Muslim clerics is also a rare place in Israel-annexed East Jerusalem where they have some measure of control.

Palestinian militant groups in Gaza — ruling Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad — have positioned themselves as defenders of Jerusalem’s holy site. On Wednesday, Hamas said Israel would bear “full responsibility for the impact” if it allowed protesters “to approach our holy sites.”

Tensions have risen in recent weeks after a series of deadly attacks in Israel, Israeli military operations in the occupied West Bank and repeated clashes between Israelis and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa compound.

Last May, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired rockets at Jerusalem as a much larger group of thousands of Israelis held a flag march into the Old City after weeks of protests and clashes in and around Al-Aqsa.

These events led to an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas that killed over 250 Palestinians and 14 Israelis and caused extensive damage in the Gaza Strip.

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https://wtop.com/middle-east/2022/04/gaza-violence-intensifies-as-jerusalem-clashes-resume/ Violence in Gaza escalates as clashes resume in Jerusalem

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