Israel and militants in Gaza have exchanged fire after clashes at the Haram al-Sharif noble sanctuary in Jerusalem’s Old City, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.
The latest violence, in the middle of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, came as Jews prepared to celebrate the eight-day Passover festival.
In the early hours of Wednesday, militants in Gaza fired 16 rockets towards Israel. Most were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defence batteries but one hit a factory in the border town of Sderot.
In response, Israeli aircraft hit militant targets in Gaza. According to the Israeli military, a Hamas weapons factory and a weapons storage facility were targeted in the strikes.
A Hamas statement said: “The bombing does not scare us, but increases our devotion to exercising our right to support the Al-Aqsa mosque.”
Soon after the exchange of fire, Egyptian and United Nations mediators were in contact with both sides in an effort to prevent further escalation. Israeli officials, eager to prevent more rocket fire as families gathered for the traditional Seder night Passover celebration, indicated that quiet will be met with quiet.
However, minister for national security Itamar Ben–Gvir, head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party, called for a more forceful response. “Hamas rockets necessitate a response beyond the bombing of dunes and uninhabited sites,” he said. “It’s time for heads to roll in Gaza.”
The violence on the Gaza border came after clashes late on Tuesday night between Israeli police and Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem’s Old City, the third holiest place in Islam.
Police said they entered the mosque to remove “agitators” who had barricaded themselves inside with fireworks, clubs and stones. At least 350 people were detained as fireworks were thrown when riot police stormed the mosque.
According to Palestinian health officials, seven people were injured by rubber-tipped bullets and police beatings.
Earlier this week, Hamas called for Muslim worshippers to seal themselves in the al-Aqsa mosque to stop a plan by Jewish extremists to try to sacrifice a goat on the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, in an attempt to resurrect a biblical tradition. The police had prevented the sacrifice taking place and detained the organiser.
Arab states and the Palestinian Authority condemned Israel’s storming of the mosque, along with the Arab League which called an emergency session to discuss the Israeli action.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, warned Israel that such a move “exceeds all red lines and will lead to a large explosion”.
Jordan’s foreign ministry said “the Israeli aggression is unacceptable and its goal is to change the historical and legal status of Jerusalem”.
Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel acted to maintain the status quo and calm the tensions on the Temple Mount. He accused extremists of trying to prevent other Muslims from coming to the mosque to pray.