At least 21 Palestinians, including nine children, were killed on Monday night, 10 May, after Israel launched airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip, in retaliation to the rockets launched towards Israel by the militant group Hamas, Al Jazeera reported.
Hamas had given an ultimatum demanding Israel to stand down its forces from the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which saw violent clashes over the weekend, including the storming of forces inside the main prayer hall.
On Monday, Israeli security forces entered the mosque for the third straight day which escalated tensions further, with more than 300 Palestinians wounded, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, as Israeli police fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas.
Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said, “We have struck 130 military targets belonging mostly to Hamas,” the group that controls the blockaded Gaza strip.
Conricus was quoted as saying, “According to our current estimates we have killed 15 Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives,” AFP news agency reported.
However, it is unclear if the death toll Israel and Palestinian officials reported overlap. The bombardment of Palestinian territory of Gaza continued on Tuesday, 11 May, morning.
Protests erupted in the city of al-Lydd near Tel Aviv in solidarity with Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa who were injured following attacks by Israeli police.
UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE URGES DE-ESCALATION
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged both Israel and the Palestinians to lower tensions.
While meeting his Jordanian counterpart Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Washington, Blinken said, “All sides need to de-escalate, reduce tensions, take practical steps to calm things down,” Al Jazeera reported.
Safadi urged the United States to play a leadership role in reducing the violence.
On the other hand, US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said that Israel’s air raids in Gaza killing civilians were an “act of terrorism” and that Palestinians “deserve protection”.
Tensions have been on the rise throughout the holy month of Ramadan, amid growing anger against potential forced evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah.
The dispute which was to be heard by Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday, 10 May, has been deferred. Meanwhile, the tensions have been playing out on the streets over the past few weeks, and have gotten violent in the last few days.
Over 200 demonstrators were injured over the weekend in clashes with the Israeli Police in Sheikh Jarrah and at the Al-Aqsa mosque which has long served as a crisis point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel had captured East Jerusalem from Jordanian forces in a 1967 war and later annexed it. Under Israeli law, Jews who can prove pre-1948 title can claim back their Jerusalem properties. However, the same does not stand for Palestinians.
WHAT HAPPENED OVER THE WEEKEND?
On the last Friday of Ramadan in East Jerusalem, 7 May, as clashes erupted between the protesters and the Israeli Police outside the Al-Aqsa mosque, the police stormed into the main prayer hall of the mosque throwing shock grenades and firing rubber bullets inside.
Abdel Fattah Sqaffe, a 71-year-old resident of Sheikh Jarrah whose 14-member household is among the six facing eviction, was quoted as saying, “I think if this continues, if they continue to try to occupy us, it can spark war in all of Israel, both sides of the Green Line, and all of the region,” The Washington Post reported.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Police’s suppression on protesters outside the Old City of Jerusalem, led to at least 90 wounded Palestinians on Saturday.
On Jerusalem Day, Monday, tensions were expected to rise, with right-wing Israeli nationalists set to march, sing and wave flags in Palestinian neighbourhoods. Citing the same, the Supreme Court hearing was postponed.
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville, demanded on Friday that Israel halt actions that “leads to a risk of forcible transfer”, which he said, “may amount to war crimes”.
Condemning the crackdown in East Jerusalem, Prime minister of Iraq Mustafa al-Kadhimi said that Palestinians have the right to stay in Sheikh Jarrah.
He was quoted as saying, “Iraq denounces all the crimes against the Palestinian people and the prevention of the Muslim community to access their holy sites,” Al Jazeera reported. He added, “The Palestinian neighbourhoods that historically belong to them, should be protected and defended.”
Pope Francis, expressed his concern over the violence and invited all “to find shared solutions so that the multi-religious and multicultural identity of the Holy City is respected”.
“I pray that it will be a place of encounter and not of clashes, a place of prayer and peace. Violence only generates violence. Enough of the clashes,” Francis was quoted as saying.
Jordan, which has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, said Israel should respect worshippers and international law safeguarding Arab rights.
UNITED STATES EXPRESSES ‘SERIOUS CONCERNS’
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan expressed “serious concerns” about the violence in Jerusalem in a phone call on Sunday with Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat.
However, the White House added, “They agreed that the launching of rocket attacks and incendiary balloons from Gaza towards Israel is unacceptable and must be condemned.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed “solidarity with the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.”
In a statement, the US Council of Muslim Organisations (USCMO) denounced the night-time attack and desecration of Al-Aqsa mosque by Israeli forces and the firing of stun grenades at worshippers offering Ramadan prayers.
The organisation also urged US President Joe Biden and Congress to halt its financial support for Israeli government and institutions in their “clear crimes against humanity”.
29 PALESTINIAN CHILDREN INJURED
The UNICEF said that at least 29 Palestinian children have been injured and eight were arrested over the weekend.
In a statement on Sunday, the UNICEF said, “A one-year old toddler was among those injured. Some children were taken for treatment at hospitals with injuries in the head and the spine.”
“UNICEF received reports that ambulances were restricted from arriving on location to assist and evacuate the injured and that an on-site clinic was reportedly hit and searched.”
ISRAEL PM REJECTS CRITICISM
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of an open-ended operation against Hamas. In a speech, Netanyahu accused the group of crossing a “red line” with the latest rocket fire and promised a tough response. “Whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” he said.
Netanyahu had earlier rejected the condemnation coming from world over saying they can build where they want in their capital.
“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem,” he said in a televised statement. “That is what we have done, and that is what we will continue to do.”
As per history scholars, a small Jewish community existed in Sheikh Jarrah around the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, but fled the area when the city was divided in 1948 between Israel and Jordan.
Consequently, in 1956, Jordan and the United Nations built 28 small homes at Sheikh Jarrah, east of the Green Line, to house Palestinian refugee families. They were joined over time by others.
Chaim Silberstein, the president of the pro-settler advocacy group Keep Jerusalem, said the Palestinian residents of the neighbourhood were “squatters” who have refused offers of compensation for their displacement, The Washington Post reported.
He added, “The Arabs see this as a challenge to their desire to get a Palestinian state, a capital in East Jerusalem, but it’s a legal issue, which they’ve lost.”
The UN Security Council also held an urgent meeting on the unrest in Jerusalem, as world leaders urged the de-escalation of the tensions.
(With inputs from Al Jazeera, The Washington Post and The Guardian)