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Home World News Washington Post World News Violence in Gaza rises as clashes resume in Jerusalem

Violence in Gaza rises as clashes resume in Jerusalem

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TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israeli Air Force and Palestinian militants exchanged fire across the border with Gaza early Thursday as clashes broke out again in Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, exacerbating an escalation eerily similar to the lead-up to the Israel-Gaza last year’s war.

The violence along the Gaza front, 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 recurrence. A rocket fired from Gaza this week shattered a months-long period of calm that followed the war.

Palestinian militants fired two rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip late Wednesday and early Thursday, and Israeli planes hit militant targets on the coast of the Hamas-ruled enclave. One rocket landed in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, a frequent target, and another fell short, landing in Gaza, the Israeli military said. The launches set off air-raid sirens in parts of southern Israel, disrupting the calm of Passover week.

Early Thursday, Israeli warplanes launched airstrikes in the central Gaza Strip, local media reported. Activists’ social media showed smoke in the air. The Israeli military said the airstrikes targeted a militant site and the entrance to a tunnel leading to an underground complex containing chemicals used to make missiles.

The military later said its planes attacked another Hamas complex after an anti-aircraft missile was fired from Gaza. It said the missile did not hit its target and no injuries or damage were reported.

The latest Israeli-Palestinian tensions have boiled over after a series of deadly attacks by Palestinians on Israelis, which then led to days-long, sometimes deadly, arrests by the army in a blaze in the West Bank and escalated into daily clashes in Jerusalem. This year, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan coincided with Passover, a time of heightened religious celebrations and large numbers of people visiting Jerusalem.

Israeli police said dozens of masked protesters holed up inside the Al-Aqsa mosque early Thursday, sealing the doors and throwing rocks and fireworks. Police said they tried to disperse the Palestinians using “riot means” without elaborating further, and that troops did not enter the mosque itself.

A Palestinian Waqf official, which manages the site, said large numbers of police have used stun grenades to clear the site. He said police also fired stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets at Palestinians trapped inside the mosque. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the incident with the media.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 20 people were injured, one of them seriously.

Similar clashes have taken place throughout the week, while more intense outbreaks at the site earlier this month, injuring more than 150 Palestinians and three police officers.

The Palestinians have accused the Israeli police of using excessive force at the holy site, and Palestinian social media is filled with videos showing Israeli forces attacking unarmed Palestinians, including women. Police say Palestinians are inciting the violence and have released their own videos showing young Palestinian men throwing rocks and fireworks at security forces. Police say Palestinians are desecrating their own sanctuary and endangering others.

Jordan, which runs the Al-Aqsa Mosque, held an emergency meeting of a regional committee on Thursday about what it called “illegal Israeli policies and measures” in Jerusalem.

The commission is made up of member states that have recently normalized ties with Israel, including the United Arab Emirates. The country’s top diplomat, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke by phone on Thursday. Al Nahyan called for stability, according to the United Arab Emirates-run news agency WAM.

A delegation from the United States Department of State is also in the region to keep the peace.

The scenes of rocket fire and repeated violence in Jerusalem are reminiscent of last year’s run-up to last year’s war. Last year, violence also spread to mixed Jewish-Arab cities, which has not happened in the current wave of unrest.

On Wednesday, hundreds of flag-waving Israeli ultra-nationalists marched into predominantly Palestinian territories around Jerusalem’s Old City, demonstrating Israeli control over the disputed city that Palestinians viewed as a provocation. Last year’s war broke out on a similar march when Gaza militants, calling themselves the Guardians of Jerusalem, fired a barrage of rockets at the holy city.

Those events, along with other developments, sparked an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas that killed more than 250 Palestinians and 14 people in Israel, and wreaked havoc in Gaza.

This year, Israeli police closed off the main road leading to the Damascus Gate of the Old City and the heart of the Muslim Quarter. After some pushing and pushing with the police, the protesters gathered at the barricades, waving flags, chanting and chanting.

Israeli nationalists organize such marches to try to assert sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which Israel conquered and annexed in 1967 along with the West Bank and Gaza in a move that went unrecognized internationally. The Palestinians strive for an independent state in all three areas and consider East Jerusalem as their capital.

The hilltop shrine in the Old City is the emotional ground 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 Jews as the Temple Mount, the site of their biblical temples.

Israel says it maintains a decades-old status quo at the site, which prevents Jews from praying there. But during the Passover holiday this year, visits from Jews have skyrocketed, and in some cases, Jews have prayed in the compound. Palestinians view the visits, under police escort, as a provocation and possible prelude to Israel taking over or dividing the site.

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

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

Associated Press writers Fares Akram in Hamilton, Canada, and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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