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Rockets, Counterstrikes and Scores of Dead: What to Know About the Escalating Israel-Palestinian Violence

·7-min read

Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Palestinians inspect the site after Israeli airstrikes hit and collapsed a 14-story building called "Ash-Shuruq" at Omar Al-Mukhtar neighbourhood in the Gaza City, Gaza, on Wednesday.

"What have I done wrong?" Maria Nagiv asked a reporter on Tuesday as she stood in post-explosion debris outside her apartment in Ashkelon, Israel, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

"I didn't do anything," Nagiv said, "and they still send us bombs."

A short drive south into Gaza City, Osama Soboh was left to ask why as well.

Soboh's mother and brother had just been killed in an airstrike on their block. The operation, Israeli officials said, was intended to take out a leader of Hamas, the militant Palestinian group which controls the Gaza Strip west of Israel and which the U.S. and Israel regard as a terrorist organization.

Hamas, which vies with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank for primacy among Palestinians, has for days been raining down rockets on parts of Israel.

But Soboh said his family had nothing to do with that.

"It's not a military barracks, it's not posing any danger to Israel," he told The New York Times. "This was an old woman with a child with cerebral palsy."

"This is my mom," Soboh said. "It's a very hard thing to say farewell to the most precious person you have on earth."

In recent days, dozens have been killed — including more than 10 children — and hundreds more wounded, the majority of them Palestinian, amid the worst escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians since 2014.

The conflict, which spiraled out of a series of clashes in East Jerusalem, has drawn international concern and calls for peace. But it may only intensify.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country "will not tolerate attacks on our territory, on our capital, on our citizens and on our soldiers. Whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price."

Here's what else you need to know, according to reporting in the Associated Press, the Times and elsewhere.

Eyad Tawil/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Israeli police use tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse Palestinians at the al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem on Monday.

Timeline of Violence

The hostilities have been increasing for weeks, according to reports, dating back to the April 12 start of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.

On Friday, in the West Bank, three Palestinian men reportedly fired on Israeli forces before being killed, according to authorities.

Also beginning on Friday, there have been major altercations between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli police at the al-Aqsa Mosque — part of a broader compound in Jerusalem's Old City that encompasses holy sites for Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The Times said that, according to Palestinian witnesses, police opened fire on worshipers though the AP said the initial cause of the fighting was not clear.

However, the Israeli police responded to the Palestinians — armed with chairs, rocks and shoes — with rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades, according to the AP. Officials vowed, "We will respond with a heavy hand to all violent disturbances, riots and attacks on our forces." Hundreds of Palestinians were wounded as were several dozen police.

Hamas fired hundreds of rockets into Israel this week in what it claimed was a response to this violence and ongoing tensions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

Many of the rockets were intercepted by Israel's defense system, though many others struck into cities across the central and southern parts of the country as residents raced to bomb shelters.

Six people were killed, including a 21-year-old soldier, a 16-year-old girl and her father.

In retaliation, Israel, which is much more militarily advanced, carried out at least 130 strikes on Gaza. Sixty-five Palestinians have reportedly been killed, including 16 children. The country says it takes steps to minimize and avoid civilian deaths.

Amid this, there have been increasing reports of localized violence is Israel as well, between Jews and the country's Arab minority, including mob assaults and destroyed property.

GALI TIBBON/AFP via Getty Images An aerial photo shows hundreds of Jews gathering during prayers at the Western Wall during the Sukkot feast of the Tabernacles next to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in 2005.

What's Fueling the Latest Bloodshed

East Jerusalem is the epicenter of the decades-long clash between Israel and the Palestinians.

Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as a capital: Israel asserts control over the entire city, though the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital in a state of their own that would also include the West Bank and Gaza, where many of them now reside in a kind of legal limbo after being displaced starting with the 20th-century Arab-Israeli conflicts around the formation of Israel.

The international community, including the U.S. and the U.N., remain nominally committed to a peace process and a possible two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

But there have not been significant peace talks in years and, under President Donald Trump, the U.S. government increasingly moved to orient the Middle East's Arab countries and Israel against Iran rather than on a pressure campaign for future negotiations.

East Jerusalem's religious significance to Christians, Jews and Muslims — which are followed by a majority of the world's population, collectively — adds additional sensitivities, as does ongoing altercations from a push for Jewish settlements in the disputed territories, which the U.N. has said obstruct possible peace.

For a time during Ramadan this year, Israeli authorities barred Palestinians living in East Jerusalem from gathering at a favored plaza, which the Muslim residents took as an insult while they observed the month.

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli police in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem on Friday.

Separately, Palestinians also rallied against the pending eviction of some Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem — a complicated dispute over land ownership that Palestinian advocates argue exemplifies how Israel is continually marginalizing them, though the Israel government has said it is a private real estate matter not reflective of broader policy.

The courts ruled the land is Jewish, and the land owners view the Palestinians as squatters who have refused to pay rent. The matter is awaiting an appeal. (The evictions also echo how many Arabs in Israel say they are treated unequally, given that the country is a Jewish state — a much broader debate.)

The annual "Jerusalem Day" celebration of Israel's 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem from Jordan was another tension, as Palestinians living in Jerusalem view it as a provocation. (The international community does not recognize Israel's permanent possession of East Jerusalem, generally arguing final territorial borders will have to be part of a peace process.)

Both Israel and the Palestinians are grappling with larger political complications as well.

Netanyahu, Israel's right-wing prime minster, may soon be forced from office if he cannot broker a coalition in parliament; while Hamas would like to increase its role in Palestinian life over the Palestinian Authority favored by the United Nations, even as the latter suspended upcoming elections, saying there were burdensome restrictions on voters.

JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images Israeli sappers gather at a targeted residential neighbourhood in Ashkelon on Tuesday after rockets were fired by Hamas from Gaza toward Israel overnight.

Reaction

U.S. officials called for de-escalation — a position echoed by others around the world — while saying they have been in contact with both Israeli and Palestinian representatives (though not Hamas).

"Israel has the right to defend itself and to respond to rocket attacks," the State Department's spokesman told reporters on Tuesday. "The Palestinian people also have the right to safety and security just as Israelis do."

The U.N.'s secretary general said he was "[working] with all relevant parties to de-escalate the situation urgently" and, through a spokesperson, said he was "deeply saddened to learn of increasingly large numbers of casualties, including children, from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, and of Israeli fatalities from rockets launched from Gaza. The Secretary-General's thoughts are with the families of the victims."

The ongoing violence has drawn a range of individual responses from commentators, lawmakers and even celebrities in the U.S.

The View's Meghan McCain tweeted Wednesday that "we must stand with Israel again against those who want nothing less than their total destruction" while Mark Ruffalo called for sanctions on Israel and said he supported the Palestinians.

Gal Gadot, an Israeli native, said in her own statement that her "heart breaks. … This is a vicious cycle that has been going on for far too long. Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation. Our neighbors deserve the same."

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