• Friday, Jun 25, 2021
  • Last Update : 01:37 am

What is happening in Jerusalem and Gaza?

  • Published at 07:53 pm May 11th, 2021
Israel Palestine Jerusalem Clashes
Israeli police detain a Palestinian during clashes at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021 Reuters

Militants in the Gaza Strip had fired rockets toward Jerusalem for the first time in years, and Israel responded with airstrikes that killed 25 people

On Monday saw a rapid escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians after weeks of clashes and demonstrations in Jerusalem.

In the morning, 300 Palestinians were injured in a police raid on the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam. 

By the evening, militants in the Gaza Strip had fired rockets toward Jerusalem for the first time in years, and Israel responded with airstrikes that killed 25 people, including nine children, according to Gaza's Ministry of Health, and three Hamas militants, according to the Israeli military.

A confluence of factors - some decades old, others more immediate - has contributed to the surging volatility and violence.

What clashes have erupted in Jerusalem in recent days?

On Monday began with more than 300 Palestinians - who had come to pray at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City during the holy month of Ramadan - injured in clashes with Israeli forces, who fired rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades. 

Confrontations between Israeli police, Palestinian protesters and far-right Jewish Israelis continued throughout the day.

The city remained tense ahead of a contentious march by nationalist Jews, which was set to pass through Palestinian neighbourhoods as part of a flag-waving Israeli holiday, Jerusalem Day. 

The route was to include Damascus Gate, one of the few centres of Palestinian life in the contested city. In recent weeks, Israeli forces and Palestinians have clashed over Israeli restrictions on nightly gatherings there after the Ramadan fast.

Soon before the march was due to proceed, Israeli authorities ordered it rerouted from the Damascus Gate area. 

Organizers called it off in protest but said participants should still gather at the Western Wall, the holiest site in the city for Jews, situated below al-Aqsa Mosque, which Jews call the Temple Mount compound.

That was around the same time that Hamas, an extremist group that controls the Gaza Strip, announced that it would fire rockets if Israeli settlers did not withdraw from al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah, a predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood of East Jerusalem where Arab families are facing evictions after years of court battles waged by Israeli settlers. The area has seen nightly confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli far-right nationalists.

On Monday evening, Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem and southern Israel. Israel responded with airstrikes.

What's behind the escalation?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival after four recent deadlocked elections that have left Israel in political turmoil. 

He is at the helm of a caretaker government as he fights corruption charges, while opposition parties struggle to form a viable alternative government.

The prime minister has aligned himself with far-right politicians. Among them are Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the extremist Jewish Power party, who has been part of the confrontations in Sheikh Jarrah and around the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu's critics say tensions have in part been permitted to escalate because he was distracted by these other affairs. 

Reports of violence targeting Jewish Israelis and soldiers have dominated Israeli media in recent days.

For Palestinians, several recent developments have stoked fears and frustrations over the future of their demands for sovereignty and rights in Jerusalem.

In late April, President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, which has control over some parts of the West Bank, announced he was postponing what were supposed to be the first Palestinian elections in 15 years. 

In theory, the elections were to take place in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. 

But Abbas is at odds with Hamas, which rules in Gaza, and Israel has barred the Palestinian Authority from operating in East Jerusalem, where most Palestinians are not Israeli citizens.

 Abbas, who was lagging in polls, blamed the cancellation on Israel, saying it had not agreed to a mechanism for East Jerusalemites to vote.

Against that backdrop, Israeli restrictions around access to the Damascus Gate and al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, became flash points as many Palestinians gathered there to observe the holy month of Ramadan. 

The odor of putrid-smelling "skunk water" sprayed by Israeli security forces has lingered in parts of East Jerusalem for weeks.

Conflicts around al-Aqsa Mosque have frequently flared up before, igniting tensions around the Middle East. 

But in recent days international attention has also increased around the decades-old legal battle in Sheikh Jarrah, where a group of Israelis is trying to evict mostly refugee Palestinian families from homes they've lived in for decades.

A final ruling by the Supreme Court was originally set for Monday - but it was postponed on Sunday by Israel's attorney general in an effort to de-escalate tensions.

In the meantime, Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel, has sought to fill the political void. The militant group is also facing its own pressures in the Gaza Strip, which is beset by multiple humanitarian crises 14 years into an Israeli- and Egyptian-led siege.

What could happen next?

Events continue to develop swiftly. While on Monday morning many feared that violence in Jerusalem would continue to worsen, by Monday evening the focus had shifted to whether Israel and Hamas might return to war.

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