(Update 4: Adds info on deaths in Gaza)
Gaza/Jerusalem, May 10 (EFE).- Nine Palestinians, including three children, were killed in Gaza on Monday in Israeli airstrikes, health officials in the enclave said, amid spiraling tensions in the region.
The Israeli airstrikes were retaliating to seven missiles that were fired from Gaza towards Jerusalem earlier on Monday as Israeli nationalists marked the country’s national day.
The Israeli army confirmed it had struck “Hamas terrorists in Gaza” in retaliation to the “barrage of rockets” that were fired on Monday.
“We hold the Palestinian terror group Hamas in Gaza accountable for this serious aggression against us,” Israel’s Defence Forces said.
Six of the shells were fired towards Jerusalem, of which one was intercepted, one landed in a house on the outskirts of the city and the rest in unpopulated areas.
Warning sirens were sounded in Jerusalem and the communities surrounding Gaza and the city of Sderot. One Israeli sustained minor injuries, according to the army.
“We have the capability, the authority and the intention to deal a heavy blow to Hamas,” an army spokesman said in response to the missiles, and said he expects “the escalation to last for a prolonged period of time”.
Hamas, the Islamist movement which rules over Gaza, said it was firing the rockets after more than 300 Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli security forces outside the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem. About 10 Israeli troops sustained injuries in the unrest early on Monday morning, officials said.
Tensions that have been simmering in recent days boiled over on Monday with the exchange of rocket fire.
An Israeli nationalists’ march to mark Jerusalem Day — originally due to pass through Muslim areas of the Old City — had to be rerouted over fears the parade would be targeted.
Dozens of young Palestinians had gathered at Damascus Gate, one of the main entry points to Jerusalem’s Old City to block the rally.
Jerusalem Day commemorates the 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.
Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a potential future independent state, but Israel views the whole of the city as its own “eternal and indivisible” capital.
The violence — among the worst the city has seen for years — comes amid heightened tensions in the region.
The Islamist Hamas movement which governs Gaza launched three missiles from the strip into Israeli territory early Monday after the Israeli army struck a Hamas military post late on Sunday in retaliation for a rocket attack.
That exchange of hostilities followed three consecutive nights of rioting in the area, coinciding with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan that is set to end later this week.
Israeli forces have cordoned off areas in the Old City to prevent religious gatherings during the holy month, angering many Palestinians.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the police’s operations on Monday morning as “a struggle for the heart of Jerusalem”, describing the Old City’s unrest as “a battle between tolerance and intolerance, between lawless violence and order”.
The prime minister said Israel is a defender of universal rights and of freedom of worship, adding that that stance would sometimes lead to clashes between Israeli security forces and those who oppose them. “We support you in this effort,” he added.