Israel launches attacks on besieged Gaza after rockets fired

Attacks come as tensions in occupied East Jerusalem soar with armed Israeli police scuffling with Palestinians for a second night.

Jerusalem clashes
On Friday, following confrontations, police said 44 people were arrested in Jerusalem [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

The Israeli military has carried out strikes targeting Hamas positions in the besieged Gaza Strip as evening clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians continued in Jerusalem.

Palestinian news agency Maan said Israeli army tanks near the fortified fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel launched attacks towards the enclave on Saturday. No injuries were reported.

The Israeli army said it hit underground infrastructure and rocket launchers in Gaza “in response to rockets fired at Israel throughout the night”.

It said some rockets exploded before reaching Israel and others were intercepted by its air defence system.

Hamas did not claim responsibility for the rocket attacks, but a small military formation affiliated with the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said it fired some of the missiles.

The attacks come as tensions in occupied East Jerusalem soar. Armed Israeli police scuffled with Palestinians for a second night on Friday over a ban on gatherings and anger fuelled by videos of attacks.

On Thursday, police barred access to some areas where Palestinians usually gather in large numbers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, sparking confrontations outside one of the entrances to the walled Old City.

Tensions were also fuelled by the arrival of far-right Israeli Jewish groups at the end of a march during which they harassed Palestinians and chanted “death to Arabs”.

Early on Saturday, Jordan strongly condemned “the racist attacks on Palestinians”.

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi tweeted: “As the occupying power under international law, Israel is responsible for stopping these attacks & for the dangerous consequences of failing to do so.”

Tens of thousands of Palestinians attended weekly prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday.

Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, condemned the “police and settlers’ attack on Palestinians in Jerusalem” in his sermon on Friday but called on the worshippers to remain calm and not to give the other side an excuse to storm the compound.

They dispersed peacefully after prayers and there were no immediate reports of unrest.

The sprawling hilltop compound has seen clashes on a number of occasions over the years and was the epicentre of the 2000 Palestinian Intifada (uprising).

Hamas staged demonstrations across Gaza after Friday prayers, reiterating its support for armed struggle.

“After a long series of protests and demonstrations, we have reached the conclusion that without weapons, we cannot liberate our land, protect our holy sites, bringing back our people to their land or maintain our dignity,” senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar said.

Later on Friday, following confrontations, police said 44 people were arrested in Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported at least 105 wounded, of whom approximately 20 were transferred to hospital, while the Israeli police said 20 officers had been injured.

The Israeli police used water cannon and stun grenades to disperse Palestinians, who were hurling stones at them.

Confrontations between Palestinians and the Israeli police have occurred on a nightly basis since the start of Ramadan.

They were ignited when police placed barricades outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, a popular gathering place after the end of the daytime Ramadan fast.

The Palestinian leadership wants East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. Its fate has been one of the thorniest issues in the peace process, which ground to a halt more than 10 years ago.

The impoverished and densely populated Gaza Strip has been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007, after Hamas took over the coastal enclave.

Hamas and Israel reached an agreement at the end of September last year to cease hostilities, although attacks have continued.

Hamas has accused Israel of not fully complying with the deal. Israel, which deems Hamas a “terrorist” organisation, shuns direct negotiations and has never publicly acknowledged the truce.

Israel has launched three offensives against the Gaza Strip since 2008, and there have been numerous flare-ups.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies