Tuesday May 11, 2021
GAZA/JERUSALEM: Israeli planes fired missiles in the Palestinian territory, while militants in Gaza launched rocket barrages into Israel for a second day on Tuesday, as the toll from the violence against Palestinians rose to at least 28, including nine children.
The most serious outbreak of fighting between armed factions in Hamas-run Gaza and Israel since 2019 began with confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli police at Al Asqa Mosque in Jerusalem on Monday.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions have been high in the holy city during Ramadan, with sporadic clashes and possible evictions of Palestinians from homes claimed by Jewish settlers in a long-running court case adding to the friction.
A Palestinian official said Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were trying to stem the escalating violence, amid international concern that events could spiral out of control.
The Gaza health ministry said at least 28 Palestinians, including nine children, had been killed and 122 wounded by Israeli strikes in the enclave of two million people since Hamas on Monday fired rockets towards Jerusalem for the first time since 2014.
Israel disputed the account, saying it had killed at least 15 Hamas fighters and that a third of the more than 250 rockets launched by militants had fallen short, causing Palestinian civilian casualties.
In one Gaza neighbourhood, an Israeli missile exploded inside an apartment in a multi-story building, killing three Islamic Jihad members, an official from the militant group said.
Police said 31 people were hurt by rocket strikes in southern Israel, though the military said its air defences were intercepting around 90% of the cross-border launches.
Hamas said that in one five-minute barrage alone, it had fired 137 missiles at Ashkelon and Ashdod, two coastal cities south of Tel Aviv, where live TV showed at least two homes on fire.
The multiple launchings appeared to be an attempt to overwhelm Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system.
A school in Ashkelon was hit by a rocket, Israel's Magen David Adom ambulance service said. Classes had been cancelled in the area and the building was empty.
Israeli television news showed Israeli tanks massing on the Gaza border as officials said infantry and armour reinforcements were being dispatched. But military affairs commentators saw a ground operation in densely populated Gaza as unlikely.
In the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, Abdel-Hamid Hamad, whose nephew Hussein, 11, was killed on Monday in what residents said was an Israeli air strike, told Reuters the boy was collecting wood to be used in construction when he was hit.
"Gaza has had enough, and nothing makes a difference now. Our children are getting killed. What should we do?" Hamad said.
In Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, a woman treated for injuries after her apartment was hit recalled moments of panic.
An air conditioner fell on her and one of her children during the night and a bathroom door fell on her husband's head, the woman told Channel 13 TV, which did not give her name.
The Arab League, some of whose members have warmed ties with Israel over the last year, accused it of "indiscriminate and irresponsible" attacks in Gaza and said it was responsible for "dangerous escalation" in Jerusalem.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged all sides to take steps to reduce tensions.
Israel also witnessed a spread of pro-Palestinian protests among its 21% Arab minority.
In the ethnically mixed town of Lod, witnesses quoted by Israeli media said one or two armed Jews shot at rioting Arabs, killing one and wounding two. The dead man's father told the Walla news site he had been ambushed while on a family visit.
The accounts could not immediately be confirmed. Israeli police said it had arrested two Lod men for suspected involvement in the shooting incident.
On Monday, more than 300 Palestinians were injured at Al Asqa Mosque in clashes with Israeli police, who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas in the compound, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Police said 21 officers were hurt in the skirmishes.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, a status not recognised internationally. Palestinians claim the eastern sector — captured by Israel in a 1967 war — as the capital of a future state and have been incensed by Israeli court-ordered evictions there to make way for Jewish settlers. A hearing on the evictions was postponed on Sunday.
Amnesty International said Israel is using "abusive and wanton force against largely peaceful Palestinian protesters" in east Jerusalem.
The London-based human rights group described some measures by Israeli officers as "disproportionate and unlawful", accusing security forces of "unprovoked attacks on peaceful demonstrators".
At Al-Aqsa and in clashes elsewhere in east Jerusalem, police used stun grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas and skunk water cannons in response to Palestinians who hurled stones, bottles and fireworks at officers.
Amnesty said Israel has used excessive force over multiple weeks of east Jerusalem protests.
In one incident, it said Israeli forces last week broke up a peaceful circle of Palestinians chanting against an attempt by Israelis to evict them from their homes in the city's Sheikh Jarrah district.
Forces on horseback sprinted toward the crowd, trampling a man who was trying to run away, Amnesty said.
The rights group called on the international community "to hold Israel accountable for its systemic violations".
The group Save the Children, also based in London, said it was "horrified" by the Israeli air strikes and demanded a stop to "the indiscriminate targeting and killing of civilians".
The United Nations rights office said Tuesday it was "deeply concerned" by the escalation of violence in the occupied Palestinian territories, east Jerusalem and Israel.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights appealed for calm after several days of unrest.
"We are deeply concerned at the escalation of violence in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, and Israel in the past days," Rupert Colville, spokesman for UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet's office, told reporters in Geneva.
"We condemn all violence and all incitement to violence and ethnic division and provocations."
He urged Israeli security forces to allow "the right to freedoms of expression, association and assembly".
"No force should be used against those exercising their rights peacefully."
More than 200 rockets have been fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip towards Israel since Monday.
"The use of indiscriminate weapons, such as the rockets being fired into Israel, is strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law and must stop immediately," said Colville.
Israel has responded with 130 strikes carried out by fighter jets and attack helicopters on military targets in the Gaza enclave.
"Israel must respect international humanitarian law," said Colville, adding that any attacks should be directed at military objectives, with precautions taken to avoid civilian deaths.
Meanwhile the UN special rapporteurs on human rights in the Palestinian territories and on adequate housing, Michael Lynk and Balakrishnan Rajagopal, condemned the Israeli security forces' response to the protests.
"The immediate source of the current tensions in east Jerusalem are the actions of Israeli settler organisations, whose stated aim is to turn Palestinian neighbourhoods into Jewish neighbourhoods," they said.
"Neither short-term calm nor long-term peace will be accomplished as long as the national and individual rights of the city's Palestinian population are routinely abrogated."
Special rapporteurs do not speak for the UN but report their findings to it.