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Israel launches airstrike after rockets fired from Gaza in day of escalation

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have been exchanging fire through the night after clashes in Jerusalem Monday left hundreds injured and tensions sky high, prompting an uptick in the violence, official sources and pictures showed.

Israeli airstrikes have left at least 22 dead in Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials. The Israel Defense Forces says it killed 15 militants.

Meanwhile, at least six were injured in the Israeli city of Ashkelon on Tuesday morning after a residential building was struck with rocket fire from Gaza and after the Al-Qassam Brigades, the militant wing of Hamas, vowed to “make Ashkelon hell.”

Pictures from the scene showed holes in the wall of the building, windows blown out, and damage to cars on the street outside the building.

The IDF said on Tuesday morning that 200 rockets have been fired from Gaza towards Israel since the hostilities flared Monday.

IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said 90% of the rockets that penetrated the Gaza-Israeli border were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system.

The IDF killed 15 Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives, according to Conricus. He also said Israeli forces struck about 130 “military targets” said to belong mostly to Hamas, including manufacturing and storing facilities as well as military bases or compounds. Conricus says the IDF targeted a Hamas operations and intelligence room in southern Gaza, as well as a Hamas battalion commander in a high-rise building.

Hamas issued a statement saying “as long as the Israeli occupation continues to perpetrate crimes and violations against the Palestinian people, the Palestinian resistance groups, including Hamas, will respond and defend Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Gaza Strip.” The statement goes on to say, “we have the right to respond to the Israeli offensive and protect the interests of our people as long as the Israeli occupation continues the escalation.”

Jersualem has seen repeated confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinians across the city for several weeks now, with Palestinians accusing Jewish nationalists of provocation and police of heavy-handed tactics.

A new escalation in violence

Monday’s violence marked a grim new turn, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describing the barrage of missiles as having “crossed a line” and vowing to “respond with great force.”

“We are in a fight on several fronts: Jerusalem, Gaza and elsewhere in the country. This evening, on Jerusalem Day, the terrorist organizations in Gaza have crossed a red line and attacked us with missiles in the outskirts of Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony at Ammunition Hill to mark Jerusalem Day.

Netanyahu also said that while Israel does not seek an intensification of hostilities, “the current conflict could continue for some time.”

Monday’s violence in and around the Al Aqsa mosque was the most serious seen in the city in the last few weeks. Videos from early morning showed Israeli police inside the mosque firing stun grenades. Palestinians were filmed throwing rocks. After a relative lull that lasted much of the day, there were further clashes in the late evening when Israeli police again entered the mosque after night prayers.

A paramedic, Ramzi Halaq, who was inside the mosque when the police entered a second time told CNN, “the police were targeting us directly as paramedic … and were preventing us from conducting our duties and taking out the injured.”

By midnight, the Palestinian Red Crescent said that 520 people had been injured through the course of the day with 333 people requiring treatment in hospital.

Adding to tensions on Monday, a car drove into two pedestrians near the Lion’s Gate entrance to the Old City after it was pelted with stones, according to video of the incident.

The car, carrying religious Israelis, came under attack by young Palestinians as it tried to change direction, before it accelerated forward and mounted the curb, sending two people hurling backward.

Police said the driver had lost control of the vehicle and that its occupants were slightly injured. The condition of the two people it struck is not yet known.

Sheikh Jarrah: A neighborhood at the center of unrest

One of the main sources of growing unrest in recent days has been the possible eviction of several Palestinian families from their homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. On Sunday, Israel’s Supreme Court postponed an appeal hearing on the decades-long legal case.

A pro-settler organization called Nahalat Shimon is using a 1970 law to argue that the owners of the land before 1948 were Jewish families, and so the current Palestinian landowners should be evicted and their properties given to Israeli Jews.

Palestinians say restitution laws in Israel are unfair because they have no legal means to reclaim property they lost to Jewish families in the late 1940s in what became the state of Israel.

The situation in Sheikh Jarrah has drawn worldwide attention, with the United States again expressing concern on Monday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the US had “serious concerns” about the violence in Israel before adding that President Biden is continuing to monitor the situation.

“This is something that our national security team is closely monitoring, obviously, across government, certainly the President is kept abreast and is watching closely as well, Psaki told reporters at a White House briefing.

US National security adviser Jake Sullivan had a call with his counterpart in Israel, Meir Ben-Shabbat, on Sunday regarding the situation in Jerusalem.

On the phone call, Sullivan highlighted recent engagements by senior US officials with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials and key regional stakeholders to press for steps to deescalate tensions, according to a readout provided by the White House.

Sullivan reiterated the United States has serious concerns about the potential evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, the readout says.

“They agreed that the launching of rocket attacks and incendiary balloons from Gaza towards Israel is unacceptable and must be condemned,” according to the readout.

“Sullivan expressed the administration’s commitment to Israel’s security and to supporting peace and stability throughout the Middle East, and assured Mr. Ben-Shabbat that the U.S. will remain fully engaged in the days ahead to promote calm in Jerusalem,” the readout said.

International calls for calm

International calls to curb the violence emerged quickly following the aerial attacks.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the rocket attacks against Israel “need to stop immediately” and called for de-escalation by “all sides.”

The US is “very deeply concerned about the rocket attacks that we’re seeing now, that need to stop and need to stop immediately,” Blinken said, speaking alongside Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at the State Department. “Even as all sides take steps to de-escalate, Israel of course has a right to defend its people and its territory from these attacks.”

Blinken also spoke of concerns over the “provocative actions” in and around Haram al-Sharif, the third-holiest site in Islam, which is also known to Jews as Temple Mount.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi echoed Blinken’s remarks, describing the situation as “extremely dangerous” and saying the priority is to “stop the escalation, make sure that international law is respected, rights of Palestinians, rights of worshippers are upheld, status quo is preserved and move forward to creating that political horizon” that would allow for a comprehensive peace.”

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