Tensions in Jerusalem sparked the worst round of cross-border violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip in months on Saturday. Palestinian insurgents fired at least 30 shells and Israel responded by attacking targets operated by Hamas, the territory’s ruling group.
Skirmishes escalated in recent days in Jerusalem, a key player in the Arab-Israeli conflict and home to sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Residents braced for possible unrest after police beefed up security and the U.S. embassy called for calm.
Israel police reported earlier in the day that 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were injured in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces clashed with both Palestinians upset over restrictions during Ramadan and Jewish extremists holding an anti-Arab march nearby.
Those incidents stoked tensions in Gaza. Hamas’ armed wing warned Israel not to test its patience and insurgents in the Palestinian enclave began firing shells into southern Israel Friday night and continued Saturday morning.
Israel’s military said its planes and tanks hit rocket launchers and unspecified Hamas subway infrastructure. The insurgent group did not claim responsibility for the attacks, but a small military formation affiliated with the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed to have launched some of the missiles.
Sirens warning of rocket fire from Gaza continued to sound in southern Israel. Air defenses intercepted some of the projectiles. No injuries were reported on either side.
At dawn, hundreds of people defied the nightly curfew imposed by Hamas to stop the spread of the coronavirus and took to the streets in an act of solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem, and burned tires.
There were fears that violence could reignite after Friday noon prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, in Jerusalem, but thousands of worshippers dispersed peacefully after religious leaders called for restraint
In the evening, dozens of Palestinians marched toward the entrance to Jerusalem’s walled Old City and clashed with police, who said the protesters threw stones and other items at officers. Six Palestinians were injured and two were hospitalized.
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Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police every night since the start of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month. The tensions began when authorities set up barricades outside Damascus Gate in the Old City, where Muslims usually gather for the night after the daytime fast.