Israel attacks Gaza for second time in a week
Israel has carried out air raids in the central Gaza Strip for the second time this week, according to witnesses, with its military saying its fighter jets attacked an underground complex used to produce rocket engines.
The raids came before dawn on Thursday. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Witnesses told Al Jazeera that the attacks damaged several homes in the al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza.
Earlier in the night, a rocket fired from Gaza struck southern Israel, causing slight damage to a house but no injuries, Israeli police said. Four more rockets were also fired from Gaza, the Israeli military said, following its raids on the besieged coastal enclave, but were intercepted by air defence systems.
No Palestinian faction claimed responsibility for the rocket launches.
In a statement, Hamas, the group that administers Gaza, said Israel’s bombing will only encourage Palestinians to “resist the occupation and step up their support for Jerusalem and its people”.
The exchanges come after nearly a month of deadly violence in Israel and the Palestine, focused on Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Israeli forces raided the compound at dawn on Thursday, and targeted worshipers with tear gas and rubber bullets, as Palestinian youth responded with petrol bombs, according to Palestinian media.
Israeli police said that dozens of rioters had thrown stones and petrol bombs from the mosque, alleging that “a violent splinter group is stopping Muslim worshipers from entering the mosque and causing damage to the site.”
Seven Palestinians, all residents of occupied east Jerusalem, had been arrested on suspicion of taking part in “violent incidents” on Wednesday, it added.
‘Death to the Arabs’
Hours earlier, Israeli police had blocked crowds of Jewish ultra-nationalist protesters from approaching the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
A surge of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory has raised fears of a slide back to a wider conflict, after last year’s 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza, in which more than 250 Palestinians in Gaza and 13 people in Israel were killed.
Early Wednesday evening, more than 1,000 ultra-nationalist demonstrators waving Israeli flags had gathered, some shouting “death to the Arabs”, but police blocked them from reaching Damascus Gate and the Old City’s Muslim quarter.
Far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, a controversial opposition politician, led the protest after being barred from the Damascus Gate area earlier in the day by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
“I’ll say it clearly, I’m not going to blink, not going to fold,” Ben Gvir told AFP, as his supporters chanted “Bennett go home!”
“I’m not allowed to enter Damascus Gate,” the former lawyer said. “Based on what law?”
Bennett said earlier that he had blocked the rally for security reasons.
On Tuesday, Israel carried out its first strike on Gaza in months, in response to the first rocket since January from the Palestinian enclave.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem”.
He added that he was in contact with the parties to press them “to do all they can to lower tensions, avoid inflammatory actions and rhetoric.”
In March, Israeli forces killed at least 29 Palestinians in raids on the West Bank as 14 people in Israel were killed in street attacks.
Israeli riot police also stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque compound last week, wounding at least 158 Palestinian Muslim worshippers.
Tensions this year have been heightened in part by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan coinciding with the Jewish celebration of Passover.
Palestinians accuse Israel of encroaching at Al-Aqsa by allowing Jewish worshipers into the sacred compound. They say the move is a violation of a centuries-old policy under which non-Muslims may visit, but not pray.
Israeli leaders have said they are ensuring freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem.
Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam and is also revered by Jews as the location of two ancient temples.
Palestinians want occupied East Jerusalem, including its Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites, as the capital of a future state.
Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem in a move not internationally recognised after capturing the area in a 1967 war, regards all of Jerusalem as its eternal capital.
Source: Al Jazeera and News Agencies