The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians escalated dangerously on Monday. After massive rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on Israel, the Israeli air force bombed targets in the coastal strip. According to the army, three activists of the Islamist Hamas, which rules there, were targeted and killed. The military published on Twitter a video of the incident in the northern part of the coastal area. According to Palestinian sources, 20 people were killed in the Israeli airstrikes in the north of the Gaza Strip, including nine children. An Israeli army spokeswoman said they were checking the reports.
After heavy clashes on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Hamas had issued an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of all police and settlers from the Temple Mount (Al-Haram al-Sharif/The Noble Sanctuary) and from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. When Israel failed to comply, shelling began shortly after 6 p.m. local time. A Hamas spokesman said the rockets were a "message" to the enemy Israel. It was a "response to its crimes and aggression against the holy city" and to Israel's actions on the Temple Mount and in Sheikh Jarrah, he said. The Islamic Jihad group also claimed responsibility for the attacks.
An army spokesman said dozens of rockets had been fired. Most of them were downed or intercepted in open areas, he said. Warning sirens sounded in the area around the Gaza Strip, as well as in the towns of Beit Shemesh, Ashkelon and Sderot. An anti-tank weapon was also fired at civilian vehicles from the Gaza Strip, according to the spokesman. One civilian was injured, he said.The spokesman went on to say that six rockets were also fired in the direction of Jerusalem. One hit a civilian house in a suburb, and one was intercepted. The others fell in open areas. The last time a rocket alert was sounded in the city was in the summer of 2014, he said. A march in the city to mark Jerusalem Day was canceled because of the attacks, according to police. The parliament in Jerusalem was reportedly evacuated.According to the army spokesman, several Palestinian organizations were involved in the attacks. According to him, however, the Islamist Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, was held responsible. Israel's intention was to deal it a heavy blow. He did not comment on the possible duration of an army operation.According to media reports, the security cabinet authorized massive air strikes on targets in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened a harsh response to Palestinian militant organizations. Israeli citizens must be prepared for the current conflict to last longer, he said.
Fire on the Temple Mount
Clashes again broke out on the Temple Mount Monday morning. Police officers used stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets against stone-throwing Palestinians in front of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinian rescue workers said more than 300 people were injured. According to police reports, nearly two dozen officers were injured. A fire, visible from afar, had also broken out on the Temple Mount on Monday evening. According to journalists from the AFP news agency, thousands of worshippers were at the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the time for evening prayers. The cause of the fire was initially unclear.
In view of the escalation of the conflict, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) has called on "all sides" to prevent civilian casualties. "There is no justification for rocket fire on Israeli civilians - and certainly no contribution to resolving the conflict, but senseless new escalation," he wrote on Twitter on Monday evening. "All sides have a duty to prevent further civilian casualties." His U.S. counterpart, Anthony Blinken, also called for de-escalation.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned of a spiral of escalation, condemning "in the strongest terms" the firing of rockets from Gaza, according to a spokesman, and calling for "maximum restraint" by Israelis and Palestinians. The UN, however, reiterated its "deep concern" over the possible displacement of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in "occupied East Jerusalem." According to diplomats, a UN Security Council meeting ended without a joint statement condemning the violence and expressing concern about possible evictions due to opposition from the United States.
Image by Ekaterina Vysotina