Over 200 Rockets Fired into Israel, Retaliatory Attacks Kill 24 in Gaza
Factions in Gaza are protesting violence at Al Aqsa Mosque and a planned eviction of 70 Palestinian residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem as tensions rise throughout Jerusalem and Israel
[Gaza City] Over 200 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel between Monday evening and Tuesday morning, scoring direct hits on two homes in the city of Ashkelon and closing school for more than 300,000 students. At the same time, the Israel Defense Forces have launched retaliatory air strikes on what it says are 130 military targets in Gaza; so far, 24 Palestinians, including 9 children, have been killed in the attacks.
The Gaza rocket attacks, which included at least seven rockets fired in and around Jerusalem, is an escalation of border violence that has been simmering for several days.
The violence in Jerusalem began several days ago due to Palestinian unrest over the possible eviction of about 70 Palestinian residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem from four homes whose ownership is claimed by Jewish groups. A Supreme Court hearing on the evictions that had been scheduled for Monday was postponed by two weeks. Tension at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount/ Haram al Sharif also led to violence over the last several days on the site which is holy to both Jews and Muslims.
More than 500 Palestinians were injured in and around Al-Aqsa in the 24-hour period ending on mid-morning Tuesday.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Jewish Israelis poured into Jerusalem on Monday to celebrate Jerusalem Day, which marks the reunification of the east and west sides of the city during the 1967 war.
Hamas set two deadlines on Monday night, calling on Israeli security forces to leave the Al-Aqsa compound and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood or risk rocket launches from Gaza. After the 6 p.m. deadline passed rockets were first fired at Jerusalem and then southern Israel. Rockets continued to be launched at Israel as a 2 a.m. deadline approached. The rocket fire has continued into Tuesday.
The IDF announced that its operation to strike Gaza in response to rocket fire would be called “Guardians of the Wall.” Hamas and other factions in Gaza are calling their operation “Sword of Jerusalem.”
Hundreds of Gazans have massed on the border in recent days to protest the violence in Jerusalem, leading Israeli security officials to express concern over the chances of a violent escalation on the southern border. IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman said in a statement that the operation to strike terror groups in Gaza is expected to last several days. At the same time, Abu Ubaida, spokesman for the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas organization, threatened that “If Israel continues to attack, we will turn Ashkelon into hell.”
Several days ago, Palestinian resistance committees in Gaza returned to launching hundreds of incendiary balloons carrying explosives toward the border area between Gaza and Israel, reactivated the “nightly confusion units,” and prepared rockets for launching. “We won’t leave Jerusalem alone whatever the sacrifice costs,” the committees said in a statement on Saturday.
Several wildfires broke out in southern Israel on Monday due to the incendiary balloons.
The Israel Defense Forces responded to the balloon attacks by launching air strikes on military installations belonging to Hamas in Gaza, suspending fishing and closing the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel.
The Palestinian resistance takes the Strip’s situations and conditions into consideration, but if the Israeli occupation continues to cross red lines, especially in Al-Aqsa Mosque, the response will be very clear
Abukamel, a member of the Ahfad Al-Nasser incendiary balloon unit, told The Media Line that: “There are new plans and methods that haven’t been used in the field before. If the occupation continues in its folly, we will not hesitate to use them.”
In a similar warning, Mohammed Aldaif, commander-in-chief of the al-Qassam Brigades, on Tuesday threatened: “If the aggression against our people in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood does not stop immediately, we will not stand idly by and the enemy will pay a heavy price.”
Gaza-based political analyst Mustafa al-Sawwaf believes the threats from the Palestinian resistance are not absurd and that Israel takes them seriously.
“I think that any movement from Gaza is important and effective. The incendiary balloons, the nightly confusion and most notably the statements of the Palestinian resistance have serious impact on the ground and this is obvious through the Israeli occupation’s reactions and attitudes,” he told The Media Line.
The Palestinian resistance is now mature and works in a planned, thoughtful, organized manner, al-Sawwaf said. He added that “the Palestinian resistance takes the Strip’s situations and conditions into consideration, but if the Israeli occupation continues to cross red lines, especially in Al-Aqsa Mosque, the response will be very clear.”
Hamas’ Ubaida on Monday in a message on Telegram gave Israel a Monday 6 p.m. deadline to withdraw its soldiers from the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and to release all Palestinians detained during the recent Jerusalem confrontations, otherwise, he wrote, “forewarned is forearmed.”
The US State Department said in a statement Monday that it “condemns in the strongest terms” the rocket attacks on Israel, calling it “an unacceptable escalation.” The statement added: “More broadly, we’re deeply concerned about the situation in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including violent confrontations in Jerusalem, particularly in the Haram al Sharif [Temple Mount] that has resulted in at least 180 additional injuries as well as the rocket fire from Gaza.” The number of injured has risen dramatically since the release of the statement to more than 500.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday evening vowed that Israel would respond with great force. “We are in a fight on several fronts: Jerusalem, Gaza and elsewhere in the country. This evening, on Jerusalem Day, the terrorist organizations in Gaza have crossed a red line and attacked us with missiles in the outskirts of Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said during the main Jerusalem Day ceremony at Ammunition Hill.
“Israel will respond with great force. We will not tolerate attacks on our territory, on our capital, on our citizens and on our soldiers. Whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” he said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement that “Hamas has been violating Israeli sovereignty over the past number of weeks, crossing the red lines. It will bear the consequences.”
He said that the Security Cabinet had authorized a number of offensive strikes “that will hit Hamas and other terrorist organizations hard.” He added that “the offensive strikes are expected to continue until we meet the operative goals that we have set.”
Other Palestinian factions also have joined the fight to pressure Israel.
On Monday, the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for the targeting of an Israeli military jeep in eastern Gaza strip, with a Kornet anti-tank guided missile. The IDF said it was a civilian vehicle traveling south of Sderot that was hit with a guided missile, injuring the driver.
The IDF says that the current round of violence will likely last at least several days.
“In the next few days, Hamas will feel the long arm of the [Israeli] army. It won’t take a few minutes, it will take a few days,” Zilberman, the IDF spokesman, said in a statement.
The spokesman said that the military is preparing for a wide range of possibilities. “Everything is on the table,” Zilberman said.
A Palestinian official told Reuters late Monday that Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations, which have mediated past truces between Israel and Hamas, have been in contact with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The IDF reportedly has not yet expressed an interest in a ceasefire.