Raid on al-Aqsa mosque escalates into rocket fire, airstrikes in Gaza
Jerusalem, Apr 5 (EFE).- A pre-dawn raid by Israeli police and subsequent clashes with Palestinian worshippers at the al-Aqsa mosque escalated into rocket fire and airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.
The clashes at the contested holy site and the rocket fire and airstrikes marked the first major bout of violence since the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.
At least nine rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza and met with retaliatory shelling. So far, no injuries were reported.
The Israel Army said its air defense systems intercepted five rockets while another four hit “open areas.”
In a retaliatory action, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) targeted two Hamas weapons manufacturing and storage sites in the Gaza Strip.
Israel blames Hamas, an Islamist movement that rules de facto in the Gaza Strip, for any attack from there.
The exchange of fire came after police entered al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam and a source of tension in the area.
The Israeli police said they conducted the pre-dawn raid because “agitators” had shut themselves inside the mosque with fireworks, sticks, and stones.
In a statement, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasem said the Palestinian people “will not allow the (Israeli) occupation to adopt their occupation plans on al-Aqsa mosque.”
In addition, he described the actions of the Israeli security forces at the site as “an aggression” and “a heinous crime.”
Hamas politician Ismail Haniyeh described the incidents in Jerusalem as “an unprecedented crime that will have consequences.”
He urged Palestinians from the West Bank and Israel “to go to the al-Aqsa mosque and protect it.”
According to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa, more than 400 Palestinians were detained and dozens injured during clashes with the Israeli police.
Citing witnesses, Wafa accused the Israeli forces of “excessive use of force.”
They fired tear gas canisters inside the mosque and rubber-coated bullets at the worshippers.
The violence in Jerusalem triggered protests in the West Bank, including in the town of Beit Ummar, where an Israeli soldier was shot by a Palestinian.
The Israeli army said rioters threw rocks and explosives at the troops, who responded by opening fire.
The fresh clashes, which come with Muslims celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, are the latest in an intensifying wave of deadly violence in the region.
The situation between Israelis and Palestinians has been particularly tense for months.
So far this year, some 92 Palestinians have been killed, an average of more than one per day, following military operations, Palestinian-led attacks, and clashes with Israeli troops, the deadliest start to the year in the West Bank since 2000.