Militant Palestinian groups in Gaza have fired rockets into Israel, with Israel responding with strikes on the Palestinian coastal enclave as tensions escalated dramatically on Monday.
The rocket attacks were launched just minutes after the passing of a Hamas-issued ultimatum for Israel to withdraw security forces from both the Jerusalem compound that is home to the al-Aqsa mosque and the Old City’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
The two locations have been the scene of increasingly violent confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in recent days that have drawn mounting international concern.
Jerusalem residents reported hearing air-raid sirens shortly after 6pm local time, when the ultimatum was due to expire, and the sound of explosions, although it was not clear if the detonations were rockets exploding or anti-rocket systems being deployed.
Air-raid sirens were also reported near the coastal city of Ashkelon and in other areas close to the Gaza border. The Israeli army said there was an initial burst of seven rockets, one was intercepted, and rocket fire was continuing in southern Israel.
The Gaza health ministry said nine Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes in the Palestinian territory after the barrages against Israel. An Israeli military spokesman said it had started to attack Hamas military targets in Gaza.
The rocket strike on Jerusalem was a significant escalation and raised the likelihood of a tough Israeli response.Commenting on the rocket strikes, Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, said: “Palestinian terrorism must be fought with an iron fist,” while opposition leader Yair Lapid called for a “strong and determined action to restore deterrence” raising the prospect of further military action
The Hamas ultimatum, issued on Monday afternoon, followed the latest clashes around the compound earlier in the day, which left more than 300 people injured.
In anticipation of the rocket fire, Israel had ordered roads near Gaza closed, while the mayor of Ashkelon ordered public bomb shelters to be opened. Flights into Ben Gurion airport were also reportedly diverted to a northern flight path away from Gaza.
The rocket attacks, and retaliatory air raids, followed a day of rapid escalation that came after Israeli police stormed the compound early on Monday, firing stun grenades and teargas and clashing with Palestinians inside following days of worsening incidents.
Earlier, in an apparent attempt to avoid further confrontation, Israeli authorities had changed the planned route of a march by ultranationalist Jews through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
The marchers were ordered to avoid the area and sent on a different route circumventing the Muslim Quarter on their way to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.
Hamas had issued its ultimatum during the afternoon, prompting Israel to rapidly redeploy military forces engaged in its biggest military exercise in three decades. Within minutes of the ultimatum passing sirens began sounding in both Jerusalem and coastal areas close to Gaza as an initial barrage of seven rockets was launched out of the coastal enclave.
An Israeli vehicle close to the Gaza border was also hit with what was described as an anti-tank missile causing injuries to its occupant.
Hamas’s military wing claimed responsibility for the first wave of rocket fire in a statement saying it struck Jerusalem in response to Israel’s “crimes and aggression in the Holy City, and its harassment of our people in Sheikh Jarrah and al-Aqsa mosque”.
“This is a message that the enemy should understand well,” said a spokesperson. Islamic Jihad in Gaza also claimed to launched its own rocket attacks.
The growing tensions follow the most serious clashes in the city since 2017. Anger had been mounting for weeks among Palestinians ahead of a now-delayed Israeli court ruling on whether authorities were able to evict dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and give their homes to Jewish settlers.
So it's six paragraphs in before the nine Palestinians killed are mentioned. Before that we get stuff about "militants" and "rocket attacks" with absolutely no casualties.
In every sentence where Israel attacking is mentioned it is qualified with "after the rocket attacks" or "in response". Every single time.
And then it's the firework that Hamas fired that is the "significant escalation" not the air strikes that killed people.
And as for "Earlier, in an apparent attempt to avoid further confrontation, Israeli authorities had changed the planned route of a march" who do they think they are ####ing kidding?