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Israel Strikes Gaza after Hamas Rocket Barrage, Nine Reported Dead

Israel Strikes Gaza after Hamas Rocket Barrage, Nine Reported Dead

Monday, 10 May, 2021 - 18:00
Rockets are fired from Gaza City towards Israel on May 10, 2021. (AFP)

Israel's army launched air strikes on Gaza Monday in response to rockets fired by the Islamist movement Hamas amid spiraling violence sparked by unrest at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Adding to the sense of chaos, a huge fire engulfed trees in the compound that houses the mosque, Islam's third holiest site, and the Temple Mount sacred to Jews.

At least nine people were killed in Gaza -- among them a senior Hamas commander -- local authorities said. But it was not immediately clear whether they all died in Israeli strikes or from a misfired Hamas rocket.

"We have started, and I repeat started, to attack military targets in Gaza," Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

He said Israeli forces had targeted "a Hamas military operative," while Hamas sources in Gaza confirmed to AFP that one of their commanders, Mohammed Fayyad, had been killed.

Conricus said he could "neither confirm nor deny" that its strikes caused all the nine fatalities, adding it may have been an "internal matter".

Tensions in Jerusalem have flared since Israeli riot police clashed with Palestinian worshippers on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in the city's worst disturbances since 2017.

Nightly unrest since then at the Al-Aqsa compound has left hundreds of Palestinians wounded, drawn calls for de-escalation from the international community and sharp rebukes from across the Muslim world.

Volley of rockets

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, Monday warned Israel to withdraw all its forces from the mosque compound and the east Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah, where looming evictions of Palestinian families have fueled angry protests.

Sirens wailed across Jerusalem just after the 1500 GMT deadline set by Hamas as people in Jerusalem, including lawmakers in the Knesset legislature, evacuated into bunkers, amid warnings over loudspeaker in Hebrew and English.

The Israeli army said seven rockets were fired from the coastal strip into Israel, two of which were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defense system and three of which fell onto vacant lands.

A spokesman for Hamas' armed wing the Qassam Brigades said that "a volley of rockets was fired towards the enemy in occupied Jerusalem in response to its crimes and aggression on the holy city and repression of its residents in Sheikh Jarrah and the Al-Aqsa Mosque".

"This is a message that the enemy must understand well: if you respond we will respond, and if you escalate we will escalate."

One Gaza rocket impacted at Beit Shemesh south of Jerusalem, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

A house in Beit Nekofa, about 10 kilometers (six miles) west of central Jerusalem, was also damaged by rocket fire, AFP TV reported.

The Israeli army said on Twitter that, separate to the rockets, "as a result of an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza, an Israeli civilian in a nearby vehicle was lightly injured" in the Gaza border area.

Sirens, evacuation

Fears of further chaos in the Old City had temporarily eased when Israeli organizers of a march to celebrate the Jewish state's 1967 capture of east Jerusalem cancelled the event.

But then came the Hamas warning, followed by the rockets.

"An alarm has just been sounded in Jerusalem. Police forces have begun evacuating hundreds of people" gathered at the Wailing Wall to safer locations, police said, later adding that the evacuation was completed.

Militants in Gaza have recently also deployed incendiary balloons that have sparked dozens of fires in Israeli territory.

In Monday's Al-Aqsa clashes, as during the previous nights since Friday, Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli officers in riot gear who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas.

Loud booms and angry screams echoed from the ancient stone walls of the compound, where Palestinians built makeshift barricades and the ground was littered with rocks, stun grenade fragments and other debris.

'Escalating aggression'

The Palestinian Red Crescent put the toll from Monday's clashes at 331 injured, including more than 200 who were hospitalized, five of them in critical condition.

The Israeli police reported nine injuries in their ranks.

The violence since Friday has been fueled by a long-running bid by Jewish settlers to evict several Palestinian families from their nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

A Supreme Court hearing on a Palestinian appeal in the case originally set for Monday was pushed back by the justice ministry due to the tensions.

Despite mounting international condemnation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced support for the Israeli police's "just struggle", praising the "steadfastness that the Israeli police and our security forces are currently displaying".

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he called Israel's "barbaric aggression."

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