At least 20 Palestinians, including nine children, were killed by Israeli airstrikes on Monday night in the conflict between the two countries over Jerusalem that has escalated over the last week, Al Jazeera reported quoting Gaza health ministry. At least 65 others were wounded.
Israeli military said the airstrikes were in retaliation, after Palestinian militant groups fired rockets towards Jerusalem, Reuters reported.
East Jerusalem has witnessed clashes between Palestinisans and the Israeli police all through the holy Muslim month of Ramzan.
At the heart of the conflict is an Israeli Supreme Court hearing, which was due on May 10 in a long-running legal case about whether several Palestinian families would be evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood near Damascus Gate that was given to Israeli settlers.
As the court hearing neared, Palestinians and left-wing Israelis began holding larger demonstrations, saying more evictions could cause a domino effect throughout the overwhelmingly Palestinian neighbourhood. The hearing has now been postponed and a new session will be scheduled within 30 days.
The renewed tensions due to the case, was an extension of the long-standing conflict as Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, sees all of the city as its Capital, while Palestinians want the eastern section as a capital of a future state. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is largely unrecognised internationally.
The neighbourhood is also home to Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, as well as the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam. Last week, hundreds of Palestinians were wounded by Israeli forces which stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the holiest night of the Ramzan month.
Turn of events on Monday
Monday began with early-morning confrontations at Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Palestine Red Crescent Society said more than 300 Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli police, who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas in the compound, Reuters reported. Police said 21 officers were hurt in the skirmishes.
The violence came in the lead-up to the “Jerusalem Day”, which Israel marks as its capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. In an effort to defuse tensions, police changed the route of a traditional Jerusalem Day march, in which thousands of Israeli flag-waving Jewish youth were due to walk through the Old City near Damascus Gate.
However, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza, set a 10.30 pm IST deadline for Israeli forces to be withdrawn from Al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah. Soon after, the Hamas fired rockets from Gaza towards Jerusalem.
Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, said it had launched “a rocket strike against the enemy in the occupied Jerusalem in response to their crimes and aggression against the holy city and its aggression against our people in Sheikh Jarrah and Al-Aqsa mosque”, Reuters reported.
The Israeli military then responded with air strikes as the country’s President Benjamin Netanyahu said that the “terrorist organisations [had] crossed a red line on Jerusalem Day”.
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Hamas must end the rocket attacks “immediately”, adding that all sides needed to de-escalate, the BBC reported.
United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted condemining the firing of rockets at Jerusalem. “We need an immediate de-escalation on all sides, and end to targeting of civilian populations,” he said.
The UN Security Council held an urgent meeting Monday over the violence, but has not issued an official statement so far.