Israel trades fire with militants in Gaza as violence in ‘Holy Land’ continues to escalate

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Palestinians fired several rockets into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip early Thursday as Israeli warplanes struck militant sites in Gaza shortly after a rocket attack that was the second of its kind this week.

The cross-border violence in Gaza was an extension of Israeli-Palestinian tensions that boiled over in Jerusalem.

The Israeli military said four rockets were fired from Gaza early Thursday and were intercepted by air defenses. Late Wednesday, a rocket was fired from Gaza, triggering Israeli airstrikes.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage, and no one claimed responsibility for the rocket fire. Israel holds the Hamas militant group that rules Gaza responsible for all rocket fire and usually responds with airstrikes within hours.

During the exchange, the IDF said its Iron Dome missile defense system took fire for a salvo of rockets in what initially appeared to be a sign of a significant escalation. But at the end of the night, the army confirmed that only one rocket had been fired at Israel during the entire exchange.

That launch took place around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday evening, with shrapnel from the rocket hitting a parked car and a wall near a house in the town of Sderot. Hundreds of ball bearings loaded into the rocket were found at the scene.

Less than three hours later, the IDF said it responded with airstrikes in central Gaza targeting a military post as well as a tunnel complex “containing crude chemicals used to manufacture rocket engines”. The IDF said its strike had dealt a severe blow to the rocket production process in Gaza.

Tensions are heightened after violence erupted at the Al-Aqsa Mosque holy site in Jerusalem over the weekend.

The site, also known as the Temple Mount, is sacred to Jews and Muslims. It is administered by Muslim authorities under Israeli security.

Palestinians have accused Israel of trying to expand the rights of observant Jews at the expense of Muslims in the compound.

In recent weeks, sporadic violence in the Palestinian territories and in Israel has left 14 Israelis dead. Some 26 Palestinians were also killed, including at least two civilian bystanders.

Also on Tuesday, fresh clashes erupted when a group of Israeli settlers were allowed to demonstrate across the West Bank against the destruction of a settlement. The IDF has made some attempts in recent months to crack down on illegal construction and “bring the settlement movement back to the days of the [2005] disengagement.”

Palestinian paramedics said they treated at least eight people who were targeted with rubber bullets and tear gas after some counter-protesters threw rocks at soldiers protecting the marchers.

Due to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, which is considered a violation of international law, as well as Israeli blockades and security “buffer zones”, residents of Gaza and the West Bank have been crammed into increasingly small neighborhoods land.

This has led to major shortages of medicine, water and other essential supplies, a situation exacerbated by the pandemic.

The West Bank and East Jerusalem have been under occupation since their capture by Israel in 1967.

Last May, Palestinian militants from Gaza fired rockets into Jerusalem as a much larger group of thousands of Israelis staged a flag march to the Old City after weeks of protests and clashes in Al-Aqsa and in its surroundings. These events led to an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli nationalists stage such marches in an attempt to assert sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war, along with the West Bank and Gaza, and annexed in an internationally unrecognized move . The Palestinians seek an independent state in the three territories and regard East Jerusalem as their capital.

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Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2022, 10:11 a.m. IST

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