Israel Hits Gaza With Airstrikes as Hamas Increases Rocket Fire

ASHKELON, Israel — The Israeli military, prepared for the latest eruption of cross-border fighting with militant groups in Gaza, designated a code name for its operation just hours after the deadly violence began: Guardians of the Walls, a reference to the ancient ramparts of the Old City of Jerusalem. The militant groups had their own code name for their campaign: Sword of Jerusalem.

By early Tuesday morning, barely 12 hours after Hamas, the Islamist militant group that holds sway in Gaza, had launched a surprise volley of rockets toward Jerusalem, Israel had carried out at least 130 retaliatory airstrikes in the Palestinian coastal territory, according to an Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. Militant groups had fired at least 200 rockets into Israel, Colonel Conricus said.

Twenty-three Palestinians, including nine children, were killed in the airstrikes overnight and 107 others were wounded, according to health officials in Gaza.

speaking on public radio from his hospital bed a few hours later, said that the rocket had landed in his son’s bedroom and that the family had not had time to reach the safety of the stairwell. “Lucky he was not there,” he said of his son. “I found myself lying on the floor, not understanding what had happened.”

Sitting among the shattered glass in her son’s second-floor apartment, Maria Nagiv, 61, said she understood little about the events that had led to the attack.

“What happened in Jerusalem?” she asked as shards crunched beneath her feet. “I haven’t been following anything about that.”

She added: “All the world says that the Jews make trouble. But what have I done wrong? I didn’t do anything, and they still send us bombs.”

A few minutes later, the sirens sounded again, warning of another rocket nearby.

The Iron Dome, an Israeli antimissile defense system, successfully intercepts about 90 percent of rockets headed for populated areas, according to military officials. But the system failed on Tuesday morning in Ashkelon.

Most of the rockets fired out of Gaza during this round of fighting have been short-range projectiles, primarily aimed at civilian communities within a few miles of the border. Israeli schools within a 25-mile radius of Gaza were ordered closed on Tuesday.

The Israeli military said that its targets had included the weapons manufacturing sites of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group, as well as military facilities and two offensive tunnels. A Hamas battalion commander who was at home in a residential apartment building was also targeted, according to the military.

Images from Gaza showed a corner apartment on an upper floor of a multistory building that had been destroyed. Raed al-Dahshan, a Gaza civil defense spokesman, said that the bodies of three people had been removed from the ruins of the building; health officials said that they were civilians. Neither the location nor the condition of the person said to be a battalion commander was immediately clear.

The military wing of Hamas, known as the Qassam Brigades, issued a statement after the strike on the building warning Israel that if it kept hitting civilian houses, “We will turn Ashkelon into hell.”

The barrage of rockets quickly followed.

Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting from Gaza City and Myra Noveck from Jerusalem.

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Why Jerusalem’s Aqsa Mosque Is an Arab-Israeli Fuse

The violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem this month reflect its significance as part of one of the most contested pieces of religious territory in the Holy Land.

Here are some basics on the mosque compound, from its importance over the centuries for three major religions to why it is such a flash point today.

World Heritage Site, meaning it is regarded as “being of outstanding international importance and therefore as deserving special protection.”

the Waqf, funded and controlled by Jordan, continued to administer the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, as it had done for decades, a special role reaffirmed in Israel’s 1994 peace treaty with Jordan.

Israeli security forces maintain a presence on the site and they coordinate with the Waqf. Jews and Christians are allowed to visit, but unlike Muslims, are prohibited from praying on the grounds under the status quo arrangement. (Jews pray just below the sacred plateau at the Western Wall, the remnants of a retaining wall that once surrounded the Temple Mount.)

Tensions over what critics call the arrangement’s discrimination against non-Muslims have periodically boiled over into violence.

Adding to the tensions is Israel’s annual celebration of Jerusalem Day, an official holiday to commemorate its capture of the entire city. The celebration, most recently held Monday, is a provocation for many Palestinians, including residents of the eastern part of Jerusalem. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state — a prospect that seems increasingly remote.

Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have said they do not intend to change the status quo.

But some Israeli religious groups have long pressed for the right to pray at the site. In April, Jordan’s Foreign Ministry formally complained about large numbers of Jewish visitors to the site, calling it a violation of the status quo.

eviction of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoodto make way for Israeli settlement construction.

The clashes have come as the Israeli government is in political limbo, after four indecisive elections over the past two years, and after President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority indefinitely postponed Palestinian legislative elections scheduled for later this month. It would have been the first such ballot since 2006.

Bitter recriminations and hardened attitudes have reverberated from all of the confrontations over the religious shrines in Jerusalem’s Old City, but some especially stand out as having helped shape Israeli policy.

including by the United States.

In 2000, a visit to the site to assert Jewish claims there, led by the right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon — then Israel’s opposition leader — was the catalyst for an explosive bout of Israeli-Palestinian violence that led to the Palestinian uprising known as the second Intifada.

In 2017, a crisis erupted after three Arab-Israeli citizens at the compound shot and killed two Israeli Druze police officers. That led the Israeli authorities to restrict access to the site and install metal detectors and cameras.

Arab outrage over those security measures led to more violence and tensions with Jordan that required American diplomatic mediation. The metal detectors were removed.

Patrick Kingsley and Isabel Kershner contributed reporting.

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A Ramadan Closer to Normal for 2021

CAIRO — Compared with Ramadan 2020, when mosques around the world were closed for prayer during the holiest month of the year for Muslims, and curfews prevented friends and family from gathering to break the fast, the religious holiday this year offered the promise of something much closer to normal.

“Last year, I felt depressed and I didn’t know how long the pandemic would last,” said Riyad Deis, a co-owner of a spice and dried-fruit shop in Jerusalem’s Old City. On Tuesday, the first day of the Muslim fasting month, its narrow alleys were alive with shoppers browsing Ramadan sweets and worshipers heading to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Mr. Deis, 51, who was selling whole pieces of turmeric and Medjool dates to a customer, recalled how empty and subdued the Old City had felt last year as virus cases surged and the authorities closed Al-Aqsa to the public. “Now, I’m relaxed, I have enough money to provide for my family and people are purchasing goods from my shop,” he said. “It’s a totally different reality.”

rising coronavirus infections across many countries.

In Kenya, the authorities have introduced longer curfews, closed bars and schools, restricted gatherings at spaces of worship, and limited travel in and out of five counties including Nairobi, the capital.

For Nairobi residents like Ahmed Asmali, this means a prolonged inability to break the fast with loved ones or attend prayers with larger congregations.

“It’s the second year now that we are in a lockdown,” said Mr. Asmali, a 41-year-old public relations worker. The experience, he said “feels weird. Feels out of place.”

Lebanon Crisis Observatory, a project by the American University in Beirut.

The pandemic still shadows much of the festivities. Shop owners in Jerusalem’s Old City said they were worried that Israel would not allow large numbers of Palestinians from the West Bank, where few have been vaccinated, to visit the Old City this Ramadan, depriving the area of their holiday spending.

Prepandemic, Israel usually allowed tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank to visit Jerusalem on Fridays during the fasting month. The arm of the Israeli government that liaises with the Palestinian Authority said on Tuesday that Israel would allow 10,000 vaccinated Palestinians from the West Bank to pray at the Aqsa on Friday. It also said authorities would permit 5,000 vaccinated Palestinians from the West Bank to make family visits in Israel between Sunday and Thursday next week.

Omar Kiswani, the director of the Aqsa Mosque, said he was overjoyed that the compound was open to worshipers — an estimated 11,000 attended the taraweeh prayers at the compound Monday evening — but he emphasized that people would still need to be careful. He said masks and two meters’ distance between worshipers are required at the mosque, and the indoor and outdoor spaces will be sterilized daily.

“These are times of great happiness,” Mr. Kiswani said. “We hope the blessed Aqsa Mosque will return to its prepandemic glory. But these are also times of caution, because the virus is still out there.”

Vivian Yee reported from Cairo, and Adam Rasgon from Jerusalem. Asmaa al-Omar contributed reporting form Istanbul and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi.

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