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Abu Obeida, spokesman for the Hamas military wing, said the rocket attack was a response to what he called Israeli “crimes and aggression” in Jerusalem. “This is a message that the enemy must understand well,” he said.
He threatened further attacks if Israel again intruded into the sacred Al-Aqsa grounds or evicted Palestinian families in a neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Previously, the Israeli police had fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets, which collided with stone-throwing Palestinians on the legendary site.
More than a dozen tear gas canisters and tranquilizers landed in Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, when police and protesters confronted each other on the walled grounds, a local Associated Press photographer said. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and iconic gold-domed shrine, and stones lay in the nearby square. In one area of the site, shoes and debris lay strewn on ornate carpets.
In an overt attempt to avoid further confrontation, the Israeli authorities changed the planned route of ultra-nationalist Jews through the Muslim quarter of the old city. Protesters were ordered to avoid the area and were sent on a different route to avoid the Muslim Quarter on their way to the Western Wall, the holiest place for Jews to pray.
However, tensions remained high.
More than 305 Palestinians were injured, including 228 who went to hospitals and clinics for treatment, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. Seven of the injured were in serious condition. According to police, 21 officers were injured, including three who were hospitalized. Israeli medics said seven Israeli civilians were also injured.
The confrontation was the last after weeks of tension between Palestinians and Israeli forces in the old city of Jerusalem, the emotional center of their conflict. During the holy month of Muslims in Ramadan, which was already a time of heightened religious sensitivity, there were almost nocturnal clashes.
Most recently, tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, where Israeli settlers have waged a protracted legal battle over property ownership. Monday should be especially tense as the Israelis mark it as Jerusalem Day to celebrate their conquest of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War.
On Monday, two anti-Arab members of the Israeli parliament, surrounded by entourage and police, pushed through a line of protesters in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Several Arab MPs were among those who tried to stop Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir while they shouted and pushed. Smotrich and Ben Gvir eventually came to the other side of a police barricade and entered a house that was already inhabited by settlers.
In the past few days, hundreds of Palestinians and several dozen police officers have been injured in clashes in and around the Old City, including the sacred site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The connection that triggered rounds of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the past is the third holiest site in Islam and is considered the holiest in Judaism.
An AP photographer at the crime scene said protesters used wooden planks and scrap metal to barricade gates to the walled area early Monday morning. At some point after 7 a.m. there were clashes with inmates throwing stones at the police outside. The police entered the premises and fired tear gas, rubber-coated steel pellets and stun grenades.
At some point in the morning there were about 400 people, both young protesters and elderly worshipers, in the carpeted Al-Aqsa mosque. Police fired tear gas and drugged grenades into the mosque.
According to police, protesters threw stones at officials and on an adjacent street near the Western Wall, where thousands of Israeli Jews had gathered to pray.
Tensions in Jerusalem threatened to echo across the region.
Before Monday’s rocket attack on Jerusalem, some 100 kilometers north of Gaza, Palestinian militants had fired several rockets into southern Israel. Protesters allied with the ruling Hamas militant group shot dozens of fire balloons into Israel, setting fire to the southern part of the country.
The rare strike against Jerusalem came immediately after Hamas set a deadline for Israel to remove its forces from the mosque and Sheikh Jarrah and release the Palestinians detained in the recent clashes.
Hamas, a militant Islamic group that seeks to destroy Israel, has waged three wars with Israel since it came to power in Gaza in 2007. The group has a huge arsenal of missiles and rockets that can strike virtually anywhere in Israel.
The rocket attack on Jerusalem was a significant escalation and increased the likelihood of a tough Israeli response.
After several days of clashes with Jerusalem, Israel is facing increasing international criticism for its persistent actions on the ground, especially during Ramadan.
The UN Security Council planned closed consultations on the situation on Monday.
Late on Sunday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat. A White House statement said Sullivan had urged Israel “to take appropriate measures to ensure calm” and expressed US “serious concerns” about the ongoing violence and planned evictions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed off the criticism on Monday, saying Israel is determined to ensure the rights of worship for all and that this requires “getting up from time to time and staying strong, as the Israeli police and our security forces are now doing” .
In other violence, Palestinian protesters threw stones at an Israeli vehicle driving just outside the walls of the old city. CCTV footage released by the police showed a crowd surrounding the car and pelting it with stones as it turned off the road into a stone barrier and a spectator.
Police said two passengers were injured.
The day began with the announcement by the police that Jews would not be allowed to visit the holy site on Jerusalem Day, which is marked with a flag parade through the old city, widely viewed by the Palestinians as a provocative phenomenon in the embattled city.
But just as the parade was about to begin, police said they were changing route on the instructions of political leaders. Several thousand people, many of them from Jewish settlements in the West Bank, took part.
In the 1967 war in which Israel conquered East Jerusalem, it also conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It later annexed East Jerusalem and regards the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians are looking for all three areas for a future state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The latest round of violence began when Israel blocked a popular place where Muslims traditionally gather every night during Ramadan at the end of their all-day fast. Israel later lifted the restrictions, but clashes resumed quickly amid tensions over the planned eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah.
The Israeli Supreme Court on Monday postponed an important decision that could have evicted dozens of Palestinians from their homes on the grounds of “circumstances”.