Israel unleashed new air strikes on Gaza early Tuesday, targeting the homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders as Palestinian armed groups fired dozens of rockets toward Israel. The latest escalation comes after weeks of tensions in contested Jerusalem.
Explosions shook buildings across the besieged Gaza Strip on Tuesday and rocket sirens sent Israelis in many southern towns scurrying for shelter overnight.
Israel's army on Tuesday said it hit 130 "military targets" in Gaza, killing 15 "Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives" in retaliatory strikes
"We have struck 130 military targets belonging mostly to Hamas," the Islamist group that controls the blockaded Gaza strip, Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters.
Hours later, the Islamic Jihad group said two of its top commanders were killed in the Israeli Gaza strikes.
At least 24 people, including nine children, were killed in Gaza overnight, most of them in Israeli strikes, according to Palestinian officials. More than 700 Palestinians were hurt in clashes with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem and across the West Bank in 24 hours, including nearly 500 who were treated at hospitals.
The Israeli military said six Israeli civilians were hurt by rocket fire Tuesday morning.
Conricus said Israel could not yet confirm or deny that its strikes caused Palestinian civilian casualties in Gaza.
He said Hamas was trying to "nurture a narrative of damage to non-combatants done by Israel. That is not true."
Israel's army estimated that roughly a third of the rockets launched by militants had "fallen short", landing inside Gaza, and may be responsible for Palestinian casualties, Conricus said.
He told reporters that sites targeted so far included weapons manufacturing and storage facilities, training sites and military bases in Gaza.
The home of one militant commander and a "Hamas intelligence centre" were also targeted, the spokesman said, without providing details.
"We are in the early stages of our counter strikes... They will continue."
Jerusalem Day turns into day of rage
The latest round of violence, like previous ones, was fueled by conflicting claims over Jerusalem, home to major holy sites of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The rival national and religious narratives of Israelis and Palestinians are rooted in the city, making it the emotional core of their long conflict.
In recent weeks, tensions have been soaring in Jerusalem, marked by clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in the walled Old City, located in East Jerusalem which Israel captured and annexed in the 1967 war.
One of the flashpoints in the Old City has been the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site of Judaism. Another driver of Palestinian anger has been the threatened eviction of Palestinian families by Israeli settlers from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem just north of the Old City.
Monday was a long day of anger and deadly violence, laying bare Jerusalem’s deep divisions, even as Israel tried to celebrate its capture of the city’s eastern sector and its sensitive holy sites more than half a century ago. With dozens of rockets flying into Israel throughout the night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with top security officials and warned that the fighting could drag on, despite calls for calm from the US, Europe and elsewhere.
Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, fired dozens of rockets Monday evening, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem. The barrage came after Hamas had given Israel a deadline to withdraw forces from the Al-Aqsa compound.
Israel views all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern part annexed after the 1967 war in a move that has not secured international recognition.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem for the capital of a state they seek in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu accuses 'terrorist organisations' of crossing 'red line'
Following a day of heightened violence, Palestinian worshippers early Tuesday performed the dawn prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque without confrontations as Israel apparently limited the presence of its police officers around the compound.
Netanyahu said that “terrorist organisations in Gaza have crossed a red line and attacked us with missiles in the outskirts of Jerusalem”.
Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday in the case, citing the “circumstances”.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned “in the strongest terms” the rocket fire on Israel and called on all sides to calm the situation.
“More broadly, we’re deeply concerned about the situation in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including violent confrontations in Jerusalem,” he said. He said the US would remain “fully engaged” and praised steps by Israel to cool things down, including the court delay in the eviction case.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)