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Bill Gates Had Reputation for Questionable Behavior Before Divorce

By the time Melinda French Gates decided to end her 27-year marriage, her husband was known globally as a software pioneer, a billionaire and a leading philanthropist.

But in some circles, Bill Gates had also developed a reputation for questionable conduct in work-related settings. That is attracting new scrutiny amid the breakup of one of the world’s richest, most powerful couples.

In 2018, Ms. French Gates wasn’t satisfied with her husband’s handling of a previously undisclosed sexual harassment claim against his longtime money manager, according to two people familiar with the matter. After Mr. Gates moved to settle the matter confidentially, Ms. French Gates insisted on an outside investigation. The money manager, Michael Larson, remains in his job.

On at least a few occasions, Mr. Gates pursued women who worked for him at Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to people with direct knowledge of his overtures. In meetings at the foundation, he was at times dismissive toward his wife, witnesses said.

public view, Ms. French Gates was unhappy. She hired divorce lawyers, setting in motion a process that culminated this month with the announcement that their marriage was ending.

a public appearance in 2016.

Long after they married in 1994, Mr. Gates would on occasion pursue women in the office.

In 2006, for example, he attended a presentation by a female Microsoft employee. Mr. Gates, who at the time was the company’s chairman, left the meeting and immediately emailed the woman to ask her out to dinner, according to two people familiar with the exchange.

“If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened,” Mr. Gates wrote in an email, according to a person who read it to The New York Times.

in a column in Time magazine announcing the pledge.

money manager, earning solid returns on the Gateses’ and the foundation’s combined $174 billion investment portfolio through a secretive operation called Cascade Investment. Cascade owned assets like stocks, bonds, hotels and vast tracts of farmland, and it also put the Gateses’ money in other investment vehicles. One was a venture capital firm called Rally Capital, which is in the same building that Cascade occupies in Kirkland, Wash.

Rally Capital had an ownership stake in a nearby bicycle shop. In 2017, the woman who managed the bike shop hired a lawyer, who wrote a letter to Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates.

The letter said that Mr. Larson had been sexually harassing the manager of the bike shop, according to three people familiar with the claim. The letter said the woman had tried to handle the situation on her own, without success, and she asked the Gateses for help. If they didn’t resolve the situation, the letter said, she might pursue legal action.

The woman reached a settlement in 2018 in which she signed a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for a payment, the three people said.

While Mr. Gates thought that brought the matter to an end, Ms. French Gates was not satisfied with the outcome, two of the people said. She called for a law firm to conduct an independent review of the woman’s allegations, and of Cascade’s culture. Mr. Larson was put on leave while the investigation was underway, but he was eventually reinstated. (It is unclear whether the investigation exonerated Mr. Larson.) He remains in charge of Cascade.

published an article detailing Mr. Gates’s relationship with Mr. Epstein. The article reported that the two men had spent time together on multiple occasions, flying on Mr. Epstein’s private jet and attending a late-night gathering at his Manhattan townhouse. “His lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing although it would not work for me,” Mr. Gates emailed colleagues in 2011, after he first met Mr. Epstein.

(Ms. Arnold, the spokeswoman for Mr. Gates, said at the time that he regretted the relationship with Mr. Epstein. She said that Mr. Gates had been unaware that the plane belonged to Mr. Epstein and that Mr. Gates had been referring to the unique décor of Mr. Epstein’s home.)

The Times article included details about Mr. Gates’s interactions with Mr. Epstein that Ms. French Gates had not previously known, according to people familiar with the matter. Soon after its publication she began consulting with divorce lawyers and other advisers who would help the couple divide their assets, one of the people said. The Wall Street Journal previously reported the timing of her lawyers’ hiring.

The revelations in The Times were especially upsetting to Ms. French Gates because she had previously voiced her discomfort with her husband associating with Mr. Epstein, who died by suicide in federal custody in 2019, shortly after being charged with sex trafficking of girls. Ms. French Gates expressed her unease in the fall of 2013 after she and Mr. Gates had dinner with Mr. Epstein at his townhouse, according to people briefed on the dinner and its aftermath. (The incident was reported earlier by The Daily Beast.)

For years, Mr. Gates continued to go to dinners and meetings at Mr. Epstein’s home, where Mr. Epstein usually surrounded himself with young and attractive women, said two people who were there and two others who were told about the gatherings.

Ms. Arnold said Mr. Gates never socialized or attended parties with Mr. Epstein, and she denied that young and attractive women participated at their meetings. “Bill only met with Epstein to discuss philanthropy,” Ms. Arnold said.

On at least one occasion, Mr. Gates remarked in Mr. Epstein’s presence that he was unhappy in his marriage, according to people who heard the comments.

Leon Black, the head of Apollo Investments who had a multifaceted business and personal relationship with Mr. Epstein, according to two people familiar with the meeting. The meeting was held at Apollo’s New York offices.

It is unclear whether Ms. French Gates was aware of the latest meetings with Mr. Epstein. A person who recently spoke to her said that “she decided that it was best for her to leave her marriage as she moved into the next phase of her life.”

Steve Eder and Jodi Kantor contributed reporting.

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What Is Happening in Israel and Gaza? Here’s What to Know.

JERUSALEM — Twenty-seven days before the first rocket was fired from Gaza this week, a squad of Israeli police officers entered the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, brushed the Palestinian attendants aside and strode across its vast limestone courtyard. Then they cut the cables to the loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the faithful from four medieval minarets.

It was the night of April 13, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It was also Memorial Day in Israel, which honors those who died fighting for the country. The Israeli president was delivering a speech at the Western Wall, a sacred Jewish site that lies below the mosque, and Israeli officials were concerned that the prayers would drown it out.

The incident was confirmed by six mosque officials, three of whom witnessed it; the Israeli police declined to comment. In the outside world, it barely registered.

But in hindsight, the police raid on the mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, was one of several actions that led, less than a month later, to the sudden resumption of war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, and the outbreak of civil unrest between Arabs and Jews across Israel itself.

recognized the city as Israel’s capital and nominally moved the United States Embassy there. There were no mass protests after four Arab countries normalized relations with Israel, abandoning a long-held consensus that they would never do so until the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had been resolved.

Two months ago, few in the Israeli military establishment were expecting anything like this.

In private briefings, military officials said the biggest threat to Israel was 1,000 miles away in Iran, or across the northern border in Lebanon.

When diplomats met in March with the two generals who oversee administrative aspects of Israeli military affairs in Gaza and the West Bank, they found the pair relaxed about the possibility of significant violence and celebrating an extended period of relative quiet, according to a senior foreign diplomat who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely.

Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. With a final court decision on their case due in the first half of May, regular protests were held throughout April — demonstrations that accelerated after Palestinians drew a connection between the events at Damascus Gate and the plight of the residents.

video and images showed they engaged in violence themselves. As the images began to circulate online, the neighborhood turned into a rallying point for Palestinians not just across the occupied territories and Israel, but among the diaspora.

The experience of the families, who had already been displaced from what became Israel in 1948, was something “every single Palestinian in the diaspora can relate to,” said Jehan Bseiso, a Palestinian poet living in Lebanon.

And it highlighted a piece of legal discrimination: Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim land in East Jerusalem that was owned by Jews before 1948. But the descendants of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled their homes that year have no legal means to reclaim their families’ land.

sight of stun grenades and bullets inside the prayer hall of one of the holiest sites in Islam — on the last Friday of Ramadan, one of its holiest nights — was seen as a grievous insult to all Muslims.

scenes that were broadcast across the world.

At the last minute, the government rerouted the Jerusalem Day march away from the Muslim Quarter, after receiving an intelligence briefing about the risk of escalation if it went ahead.

But that was too little, and far too late. By then, the Israeli Army had already begun to order civilians away from the Gaza perimeter.

Shortly after 6 p.m. on Monday, the rocket fire from Gaza began.

Rami Nazzal contributed reporting from Ramallah, West Bank, and Iyad Abuhweila from Gaza City.

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In Mixed Israel Cities Proud of Good Relations, a Sudden, Explosive Division

Most of the original Palestinian residents of Lod, known as Lydda in Arabic, were expelled and moved east, never to return. Bedouins from the Negev arrived in the following decades, as did families of Palestinians from the West Bank who had collaborated with Israel, seeking safe refuge.

The rage of the Arab youths now is steeped in a smarting sense of inequality born of decades of discrimination and a lingering fear of displacement. Many Palestinian residents of Lod expressed frustration on Thursday over government neglect. Weeks ago, a couple of homes that lacked building permits were demolished by the authorities.

The anger has been stoked in recent years by a process of internal Jewish settlement in Israel. Instead of settling in the already well populated Jewish communities of the West Bank, organized groups of young, ideological, Orthodox families are now moving into economically weak and mixed cities like Lod, perceiving a religious calling to strengthen the Jewish presence there.

Many of those newer Jewish families are scattered around Ramat Eshkol, living in shared apartment buildings with Arab neighbors, Israeli flags flying outside their windows. Others live in a newly built, specially designated neighborhood for them nearby.

“We feel it is important,” said Yehezkel Cohen, 43, the principal of the community’s elementary school, showing religious books that were burned. “It’s our mission. Our presence has only improved the neighborhood.”

The trouble in the city began when Arab youths protested outside a mosque in the old quarter on Monday night and raised a Palestinian flag. They were roughly dispersed by police firing stun grenades and tear gas, residents said, igniting the charged atmosphere.

Later that night an Arab man was fatally shot during a riot, and three Jewish men were arrested. Their neighbors claimed they acted in self-defense, but the death may have set off a blood feud.

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Cameroon Sentences Transgender Women to 5 Years in Prison

Two transgender women were sentenced to five years in prison in Cameroon this week after they were found guilty of “attempted homosexuality” and public indecency, the latest example of an increasing crackdown on gay and transgender people in the West African nation, human rights groups say.

Shakiro, identified in police documents as Loïc Njeukam, and Patricia, referred to as Roland Mouthe, both identify as transgender and were arrested in February as they were having dinner at a restaurant in Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital. On Tuesday, they were also found guilty of failing to show proof of identity and given the maximum fine of 200,000 CFA francs, or $370.

Shakiro, a social media personality who has amassed tens of thousands of followers through her posts calling for more tolerance toward gender minorities in Cameroon, has stopped eating and shared plans to die by suicide since the verdict, according to her mother, Joséphine Marie Njeukam, who visited her in prison on Wednesday.

Ms. Njeukam said her child told her, “‘Mum, I won’t survive here for five years.’” She said her child didn’t kill anyone or steal, and that her sexuality “shouldn’t be a crime.”

according to Human Rights Watch, and several of those arrested were subjected to beatings and other forms of abuse.

“There has long been an anti-L.G.B.T. sentiment in Cameroon,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, a researcher at Human Rights Watch who documents abuses in the country. “Now the judicial system contributes to the perception that homosexual and transgender people are criminals.”

The sentence for Shakiro and Patricia, who both go by a single name, is the maximum punishment under Cameroon’s penal code for engaging in sexual intercourse with a person of the same sex. But the women’s lawyer says they were detained while they were having dinner in a public space, and were not intimate or attempting to be.

Shakiro, 23, and Patricia, 27, were at a restaurant in Douala on Feb. 8 when police officers arrested them on charges of failing to provide identity documents. The two remained in prison for two months awaiting trial, according to their lawyer, Alice Nkom, and were sentenced on Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch.

Prosecutors in Cameroon and several other countries in Africa where homosexuality is criminalized, including Kenya, Tunisia and Uganda, among others, have in recent years commissioned anal examinations to allegedly prove that a person had engaged in homosexual intercourse, even though the outdated practice has been widely discredited by health care professionals and amounts to sexual assault.

attracted a wide following on social media, where she has repeatedly called for more tolerance against homosexual and transgender people in Cameroon.

“My sexual orientation and my sexuality aren’t choices,” she wrote in March. “But your baseless hatred and your homophobia are.”

Linda Noumsi, a makeup artist and friend of Shakiro’s, said her activism had attracted many critics. “She has a strong personality, and she can be quite vocal about her cause, which brought real supporters, fake friends, and enemies,” Ms. Noumsi said.

Ms. Nkom, the lawyer, said the verdict sent a pernicious message to the public in Cameroon: “It says, ‘If you don’t like someone’s appearance because they are different, you can just call the police, and they’ll have them arrested.’”

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Lod is the epicenter of Jewish-Arab Violence in Israel

LOD, Israel — The hulks of burned out cars and trucks litter the streets of the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, the epicenter of three nights of violence inside Israeli cities that have fed fears the country could be careening toward a civil war.

When the violence spread on Monday from the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to Gaza, an uneasy coexistence in Lod, deep inside central Israel, abruptly ruptured.

The authorities have declared a state of emergency in the town of about 80,000 people and imposed a night curfew from Wednesday. Armed border police, brought in from the occupied West Bank, were deployed.

But the curfew did little to calm the atmosphere, and both Jews and Arabs described a terrifying night on Wednesday. Arab residents, who account for about 30 percent of the town’s population, rioted while Jewish extremists came from outside Lod and burned Arab cars and property.

On Thursday morning, a Jewish man was stabbed as he walked to synagogue, but he survived.

Shirin al-Hinawi, a 33-year-old Arab resident of Lod who works for the Israeli food company Osem, said her house was charred when rioters threw a Molotov cocktail into her yard on Wednesday night. She lamented that the police did not come to protect her family.

“We ran out of the house without clothes on. It was burning,” she said. “We are not living in Gaza. I’m an Israeli citizen and we didn’t do anything,” she said with tears in her eyes.

The latest eruption of Israeli-Arab warfare bears many of the hallmarks of past conflicts: round after round of Israeli airstrikes on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and salvos of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. But this time, a distinctly different type of violence has spilled over into Israeli cities, some of them with mixed Jewish and Arab populations living closely intertwined lives.

It was this unusual outburst of street clashes inside Israel that prompted the president to warn of a civil war and the prime minister to call for an end to “lynchings” by Arab and Jewish mobs that have run amok.

Ramat Eshkol, a hardscrabble neighborhood near the old quarter of Lod, has been one of the hottest flash points of violence in the town. A community of young Orthodox Jews moved there in recent years. Many of them live with Arab neighbors in shared apartment buildings. Israeli flags flying out the windows mark some of the Jewish apartments.

Arab youths in Lod, inflamed by the clashes at the Aqsa compound in Jerusalem and by a long history of discrimination and generations-old fear of displacement, began protesting on Monday night outside a mosque in the old quarter and were dispersed by police who used stun grenades and tear gas, residents said.

That ignited a broader flare-up that then spread to other mixed Jewish-Arab towns and cities in Israel.

By the end of the night on Monday, an Arab man was fatally shot when dozens of stone-throwing protesters approached a building with Jewish residents. Since then, at least four synagogues have been burned as well as a religious school and a military training academy.

Yousef Ezz, a 33-year-old Arab truck driver from Lod, said his truck was burned on Wednesday night.

“People have lost all their faith. This is their last stop,” he said. “I will live and die here and my children will live or die here.”

Tahael Harris, a 27-year-old Jewish woman who lives in a shabby building with a mix of Arab and Jewish citizens opposite the school that was burned, said that for the last three nights, she and her husband and two children have been holed up at home behind locked doors while mobs of Arabs were setting cars on fire and throwing stones.

On Wednesday night, the violence ramped up and the family heard live gunfire.

“There is a feeling it’s only getting worse,” she said. “Before, it was quiet, not perfect, but we were good neighbors. I don’t know where they were last night. I don’t want to ask because I’m scared to hear the answer,” she said, fearing her own neighbors were among the attackers.

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Live Updates: Jews and Arabs Clash in Israel’s Streets

more of the forces into the streets on Thursday after another night of unrest.

Credit…Ammar Awad/Reuters

In one seaside suburb south of Tel Aviv, dozens of Jewish extremists took turns beating and kicking a man presumed to be Arab, even as he lay motionless on the ground. To the north, in another coastal town, an Arab mob beat a man they thought was Jewish with sticks and rocks, leaving him in a critical condition. Nearby, an Arab mob nearly stabbed to death a man believed to be Jewish.

Tamer Nafar, a Palestinian rapper considered one of the symbols of Lod mourned the terrible rupture inside the community.

“Maybe we look at the word coexistence differently,” he said. “But so far there is only one side, the Jewish side.”

The Aqsa raid might have been the spark for the current round of hostilities, but the fuel was years of anger from Israel’s Arab minority, who make up about 20 percent of the population. They have full citizenship, but rights advocates say they are victims of dozens of discriminatory regulations.

“The way that we are treated is as though we shouldn’t be here,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian political analyst from Haifa, a city in northern Israel.

A burnt vehicle is seen after violent confrontations between Israeli Arab demonstrators and police in Lod, Israel, on Wednesday.
Credit…Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

LOD, Israel — The hulks of burned out cars and trucks litter the streets of the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, the epicenter of three nights of violence inside Israeli cities that have fed fears the country could be careening toward a civil war.

When the violence spread on Monday from the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to Gaza, an uneasy coexistence in Lod, deep inside central Israel, abruptly ruptured.

The authorities have declared a state of emergency in the town of about 80,000 people and imposed a night curfew from Wednesday. Armed border police, brought in from the occupied West Bank, were deployed.

But the curfew did little to calm the atmosphere, and both Jews and Arabs described a terrifying night on Wednesday. Arab residents, who account for about 30 percent of the town’s population, protested while Jewish extremists came from outside Lod and burned Arab cars and property.

On Thursday morning, a Jewish man was stabbed as he walked to synagogue, but he survived.

Shirin al-Hinawi, a 33-year-old Arab resident of Lod who works for the Israeli food company Osem, said her house was charred when rioters threw a Molotov cocktail into her yard on Wednesday night. She lamented that the police did not come to protect her family.

“We ran out of the house without clothes on. It was burning,” she said. “We are not living in Gaza. I’m an Israeli citizen and we didn’t do anything,” she said with tears in her eyes.

The latest eruption of Israeli-Arab warfare bears many of the hallmarks of past conflicts: round after round of Israeli airstrikes on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and salvos of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. But this time a distinctly different type of violence has spilled over into Israeli cities, some of them with mixed Jewish and Arab populations living closely intertwined lives.

It was this unusual outburst of street clashes inside Israel that prompted the president to warn of a civil war and the prime minister to call for an end to “lynchings” by Arab and Jewish mobs that have run amok.

Ramat Eshkol, a hardscrabble neighborhood near the old city of Lod, has been one of the hottest flash points of violence in Lod. A community of young Orthodox Jews moved there in recent years with Arab neighbors in shared apartment buildings. Israeli flags flying out the windows mark some of the Jewish apartments.

Arab youths in Lod, inflamed by the clashes at the Aqsa compound in Jerusalem and by a long history of discrimination and generations-old fear of displacement, began protesting on Monday night outside a mosque in the old quarter and were dispersed by police who used stun grenades and tear gas, residents said.

That ignited a broader flare-up that then spread to other mixed Jewish-Arab towns and cities in Israel.

By the end of the night on Monday, an Arab man was fatally shot when dozens of stone-throwing protesters approached a building with Jewish residents. Since then, at least four synagogues have been burned as well a religious school and a military training academy.

Yousef Ezz, 33-year-old Arab truck driver from Lod, said his truck was burned on Wednesday night.

“People have lost all their faith. This is their last stop,” he said. “I will live and die here and my children will live or die here.”

Tahael Harris, a 27-year-old a Jewish woman who lives in a shabby building with a mix of Arab and Jewish citizens opposite the school that was burned, said that for the last three nights, she and her husband and two children have been holed up at home behind locked doors while mobs of Arabs were setting cars on fire and throwing stones.

On Wednesday night, the violence ramped up and the family heard live gunfire.

“There is a feeling it’s only getting worse,” she said. “Before, it was quiet, not perfect, but we were good neighbors. I don’t know where they were last night. I don’t want to ask because I’m scared to hear the answer,” she said, fearing her own neighbors were among the attackers.

Palestinian Muslims performing Eid al-Fitr prayers in the Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem on Thursday.
Credit…Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press

Muslims around the world marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan on Thursday, a day typically filled with prayer, celebration and feasting. But for many Palestinians, the moment was a somber one amid escalating clashes with Israel that have killed scores in just a few days.

Tens of thousands of worshipers gathered at the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem at dawn to mark Eid al-Fitr, days after Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians there in one of the triggers to the current round of violence. That episode quickly spiraled into a deadly conflict as Palestinian militants in Gaza fired rockets and Israel carried out airstrikes on the territory.

The Aqsa Mosque is one of the holiest sites in Islam, located in a complex in the Old City of Jerusalem that is revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of worshipers stood in lines and then bowed in prayer.

Some waved Palestinian flags and a banner showing an image of Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip. Across the region, in prayers in Jordan and Turkey, some of those gathered to mark Eid waved Palestinian flags in solidarity.

In Gaza, days of Israeli airstrikes had killed more than 80 people by Thursday morning, according to Palestinian health officials. At least six Israelis have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza into Israel by Hamas militants and their allies.

In one photo from Gaza on Thursday, three Palestinian men laid their mats alongside buildings that had been destroyed by recent airstrikes and bowed in prayer as the sun rose over the crumbling heap of concrete and tangled metal.

Elsewhere in Gaza, funerals were held throughout the morning for those killed in the strikes.

The nearly deserted Ben Gurion airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, on Thursday.
Credit…Gil Cohen-Magen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Airlines in Europe canceled flights to Israel on Thursday as violence in the Middle Eastern nation escalated, and arriving flights were being diverted to Ramon International Airport in southern Israel.

Airlines in the United States had begun canceling flights on Wednesday.

British Airways said it had canceled its flights between London and Israel on Thursday. “The safety and security of our colleagues and customers is always our top priority​, and we continue to monitor the situation closely,” the airline said in a statement.

Lufthansa, the German airline, said it was suspending flights to Israel until Friday. Virgin Atlantic said it had canceled its service between London and Tel Aviv on Thursday morning. And the Spanish airline Iberia canceled its flight to the city on Thursday from Madrid, Reuters reported.

Flights arriving in Israel that would typically land at Ben-Gurion Airport, about 12 miles southeast of Tel Aviv, were being diverted to Ramon Airport, Israel’s second-largest international airport, the Jerusalem Post said.

El Al Airlines, the Israeli national airline, confirmed on its website that most of its incoming flights would land at Ramon airport, in the south of Israel, instead of Ben-Gurion. Outgoing flights were still due to leave from Ben-Gurion, El Al said on its website. It said on Wednesday that customers with travel booked before May 19 would be able to reschedule without being subject to fees.

United Airlines, American Airlines Delta Air Lines canceled flights to and from Tel Aviv on Wednesday, and in some cases waived change fees for customers with planned trips through May 25.

Deadly violence between Palestinians and Israel continued to take a toll on Thursday, including clashes in city streets, in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as “anarchy.”

A damaged house in Ashkelon, Israel, on Wednesday.
Credit…Dan Balilty for The New York Times

As the United States and Egyptian mediators head to Israel to begin de-escalation talks, the antagonists are weighing delicate internal considerations before agreeing to discussions on ending the violence.

Both Israel and Hamas first have to find ways to spin a narrative of victory for their publics, analysts say, but the task will be easier for Hamas than for Israel.

Israel’s caretaker prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has to calculate the impact of the fighting on his own political fortunes, made more complicated by the internal unrest between Jews and Israeli Arabs in numerous cities inside Israel. The crucial decision for Israel is whether “victory” requires sending ground troops into Gaza, which would extend the conflict and significantly increase the number of dead and wounded on both sides.

For the Palestinians, the indefinite postponement of elections last month by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, created a vacuum that Hamas is more than willing to fill. Hamas argues that it is the only Palestinian faction that, with its large stockpile of improved missiles, is defending the holy places of Jerusalem, turning Mr. Abbas into a spectator.

President Biden has spoken to Mr. Netanyahu and repeated the usual formula about Israel’s right to self-defense, and he has dispatched an experienced diplomat, the deputy assistant secretary of state Hady Amr, to urge de-escalation on both sides.

The aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on Thursday.
Credit…Hosam Salem for The New York Times

GAZA CITY — On Tuesday evening, Gazans celebrated as they heard the whoosh of rockets sent toward Israel.

But by Wednesday morning the cheers had stopped, as Gazans saw the aftermath of what some described as the most intense airstrikes since cross-border Israeli-Palestinian hostilities flared again this week.

In one neighborhood, near Zeitoun and Sabra, residents inspected their homes and neighborhoods for damage, and desperately sought information about where the missiles might strike next.

“I felt that the hits were random,” said Nadal Issa, 27, the owner of a bridal shop.

Hamas and other militants have been exchanging fire with Israel since Monday. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including at least 16 children as of Wednesday night, officials said. In Israel, at least six civilians have been killed, including one child.

In Gaza, some said they had never felt anything as harrowing as the surge of Israeli strikes that came Wednesday morning.

Some said it felt as if blast waves were hitting their face and body, as if their block were under attack. Disoriented, they staggered to windows to look outside.

“My two children woke up, and they asked me, ‘What’s going on?’” Mr. Issa said. Thinking quickly, he reminded them that the holiday marking the end of Ramadan was near. “I told them these are celebrations for Eid.”

Mohammed Sabtie, a 30-year-old motorcycle mechanic, was among the Gazans who left their homes after the airstrikes subsided on Wednesday morning to see the damage.

“The sound was very, very horrific,” Mr. Sabtie said. “It was like a state of war. It was the first time I ever heard anything like this.”

Was he scared? Yes, he said, but also glad to see Palestinians fighting back.

“Our ambitions are not war,” Mr. Sabtie said. “Our ambitions are security and peace. We have to do this. We don’t want to be hit and insulted. We want to hit back.”

Israeli forces patrolling Acre, a mixed Arab-Jewish town in northwest Israel, on Thursday.
Credit…Jalaa Marey/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Violence in Israel could have “significant economic repercussions” if it leads to sustained conflict between Jewish and Arab citizens, the Fitch credit ratings agency said Thursday.

The warning from Fitch, whose views influence the interest rates paid by the Israeli government and Israeli corporations, was an indication of how rioting and mob attacks in cities like Lod could undercut the country’s recovery from the economic effects of the pandemic.

Fitch, noting that the Israeli economy has withstood past conflicts, said damage to the government’s creditworthiness would be limited “unless there is a substantial and sustained escalation in violence.”

If persistent strife prompts bond investors to demand higher interest rates on Israeli government debt, borrowing costs for businesses and consumers would also rise and act as a brake on growth.

Fitch and other ratings agencies consider Israeli government bonds to be a relatively safe investment, but the country already pays a premium because of what Fitch called its “hostile geopolitical environment.”

Fitch said that violence involving Arab Israelis, who make up about one-fifth of the population, represents a particular risk. In recent days Jewish and Arab citizens have clashed in the worst violence in decades in Israeli cities, in some cases dragging people from their vehicles and beating them severely.

The violence will make it more difficult for the leading political parties to form a stable government following elections in March that produced a stalemate. And the fighting will hurt the Israeli tourism industry, Fitch said.

The fighting will also hinder Israel from benefiting from better relations with other countries in the region, Fitch said. “The prospect of improved regional relations has receded further with the latest clashes,” Fitch said.

The United States Embassy in Jerusalem in 2018.
Credit…Valery SharifulinTASS, via Getty Images

The United States Embassy in Jerusalem has warned its staff members and their families to stay close to home or near bomb shelters because of the heightened threat of rocket attacks from Palestinian militants in Gaza, barely 40 miles away.

The warning, issued on Wednesday and posted on the embassy’s website, came as the crisis engulfing Israel and the Palestinian territories escalated to the most violent in years.

“Rockets continue to impact the Gaza periphery and areas across Southern and Central Israel,” read the alert. It advised diplomats and their relatives to remain in safe surroundings at least until May 17.

The embassy itself is contentious, having been moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv by President Donald J. Trump three years ago over the strenuous objections of the Palestinians, who saw the change as an endorsement of Israel’s claim to the entire city as its capital. Israel captured the eastern part of the city in the 1967 war, and its occupation is not internationally recognized.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital under a long-proposed two-state solution to the conflict. Most foreign embassies in Israel remain in Tel Aviv, partly because of Jerusalem’s disputed status.

While the Biden administration has pledged a more evenhanded approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than that of its predecessor, which heavily favored the Israeli side, there is no expectation the embassy will be moved back to Tel Aviv.

The embassy was part of a jarring juxtaposition when it held a celebratory opening on May 14, 2018. While Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and other American officials were toasting the relocation, Israeli soldiers and snipers were using tear gas and live gunfire to drive back hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators on the Gaza side of the border.

Several Islamist terror organizations take their name from Al-Aqsa, a holy site in Jerusalem., 
Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Instagram removed some posts and restricted access to other content that used hashtags related to the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem after mistakenly associating the name with a terrorist organization, according to an internal company message.

The error, acknowledged by Facebook, which owns Instagram, added a new irritant to the crisis roiling Jerusalem and spreading elsewhere in Israel and the occupied territories. The crisis began over an Israeli police crackdown around the mosque, which is built atop a site holy to Muslims and Jews.

Facebook said in the message that while “Al-Aqsa” often refers to the mosque, “it is also unfortunately included in the names of several restricted organizations.” Although the company did not identify those groups, the State Department has designated the Aqsa Martyrs Brigade as a foreign terrorist organization, and several other groups with “Al-Aqsa” in their names have had sanctions imposed on them by the United States.

As a result, the company said, some content related to the Aqsa Mosque was mistakenly removed or restricted.

“I want to apologize for the frustration these mistakes have caused,” a Facebook employee who works on the issue of “dangerous organizations” wrote to employees in an internal message that Facebook shared with The New York Times. “I want to reaffirm that these removals are strictly enforcement errors. We understand the vital importance of the Al-Aqsa mosque to Palestinians and the Muslim community around the world.”

The restrictions, previously reported by BuzzFeed News, had fueled criticism that Instagram and other social media platforms were censoring Palestinian voices after a raid by the Israeli police on the mosque left hundreds of Palestinians and a score of police officers wounded.

Facebook’s internal message said the company was making changes to ensure that the term “Al-Aqsa” by itself does not prompt restrictions or removals.

“These mistakes are painful, erode the trust of our community and there is no easy fix for that,” the Facebook employee wrote. “While I cannot promise that future errors will not occur — I can promise that we are working earnestly to ensure that we are not censoring salient political and social voices in Jerusalem and around the world.”

Twitter, which had also been accused of unfairly blocking Palestinian content, said in a statement that it used a combination of technology and people to enforce its rules.

“In certain cases, our automated systems took enforcement action on a small number of accounts in error through an automated spam filter,” Twitter said in a statement. “We expeditiously reversed these actions to reinstate access to the affected accounts.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel declared a state of emergency in the city of Lod on Wednesday. His political opponents blame him for the rising violence.
Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

JERUSALEM — When it’s guns doing the talking, Israel’s usual political clamor typically shushes up.

This time? It’s different.

As the conflict with Gaza inflicted more death on Wednesday, a political rival of Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the prime minister for the escalating violence and said he was working to replace him.

Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the opposition, said the conflict “can be no excuse for keeping Netanyahu and his government in place,” He added, “They are exactly the reason why he should be replaced as soon as possible.”

The crisis, in which dozens have been killed, has occurred at a key moment in Israeli politics.

After Mr. Netanyahu failed to form a government following the fourth elections in two years, Mr. Lapid was given his chance. Yet the bloodshed makes Mr. Lapid’s efforts to forge a coalition government both simpler and more difficult.

On one hand, Mr. Netanyahu’s detractors have even more incentive to oust him. But the violence has highlighted the profound differences between the parties of the anti-Netanyahu camp, which span the political spectrum from left to right.

“If the opposing ideologies meant they had one hand tied behind their back,” said Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, “now they have both hands tied behind their back.”

President Biden condemned the rocket attacks on Israel and said the United States’ position was that Jerusalem should be “a place of peace.”
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden said that he had spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “for a while” on Wednesday amid escalating fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, and asserted his “unwavering support” for Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

“My hope is that we will see this coming to a conclusion sooner than later,” Mr. Biden said in response to questions from reporters.

According to a readout of the call released by the White House, Mr. Biden “condemned” the rocket attacks on Israel and added that the United States’ position is that Jerusalem be “a place of peace.”

Mr. Biden also said that his administration’s national security and defense officials had been and would stay “in constant contact” with their counterparts in the Middle East.

The White House added that during the phone call Mr. Biden had updated Mr. Netanyahu on the United States’ diplomatic engagement with Palestinian officials and other nations in the Middle East.

The call between the two leaders came on the same day that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke over the phone with Mr. Netanyahu.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III on Wednesday offered “ironclad support” for Israel’s self-defense in a phone conversation with Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister.

Andrew Yang, a candidate for New York City mayor, said early this week that he was “standing with the people of Israel.”
Credit…Sara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times

New York City has the largest Jewish population in the world outside Israel. And while the city’s mayor has no formal foreign-policy powers, the position often affords opportunities to showcase New York’s posture toward Israel.

But wholehearted, uncritical support for Israel is no longer automatic among officials or candidates — a dynamic that has been brought to the fore amid the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Andrew Yang, a leading candidate to be the city’s next mayor, issued a statement early this week saying that he was “standing with the people of Israel who are coming under bombardment attacks, and condemn the Hamas terrorists,” and adding, “The people of N.Y.C. will always stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel who face down terrorism and persevere.”

Then came the backlash.

At a campaign stop, Mr. Yang was confronted about his statement and its failure to mention the Palestinians, including children, who were killed in Israeli airstrikes. He was uninvited from an event to distribute food to families at the end of Ramadan.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who has condemned the “occupation of Palestine,” called Mr. Yang’s statement “utterly shameful” and noted that it had come during the Muslim holy month.

Mr. Yang acknowledged that volunteers with his campaign had been upset by his statement. And on Wednesday he released a new one, admitting that his first was “overly simplistic” and “failed to acknowledge the pain and suffering on both sides.”

“I mourn for every Palestinian life taken before its time, as I do for every Israeli,” he said.

His clarification reflects a reality that what was once a given in New York City politics — unquestioning support for Israel — has become a much more complicated proposition for Democratic candidates.

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As Gaza conflict heightens, a wave of Arab unrest spreads across Israel.

As rockets and airstrikes have pummeled targets across Gaza and Israel, a different conflict has erupted in the streets of Arab neighborhoods and mixed Arab-Jewish towns across the state of Israel.

Palestinian citizens of Israel have rioted in several cities since Monday night, burning cars and Jewish-owned properties, as anger at the Gaza conflict, as well as at decades of discrimination dating back to the foundation of the state of Israel, found its expression in street violence.

In the central city of Lod, known in Arabic as Lydd, the government declared a state of emergency on Wednesday morning, after a synagogue, a school and several vehicles were torched by Arab rioters on Monday and Tuesday nights.

A Palestinian citizen, Moussa Hassouna, was shot dead by a Jewish resident during the disturbances on Monday night, and another wave of unrest followed his funeral 24 hours later.

Jewish communities have been built in Israel’s history, but only seven for Arabs. In the Negev, dozens of Bedouin towns have never been given planning permission, leading to the demolition of hundreds of structures there every year.

The question of land has particular resonance in Lod: Thousands of Palestinians fled from their homes there in 1948, never to return, and the trauma of that event still lingers today.

“I still feel unsure whether I can keep living here,” said Ms. Naqib. “I fear they will try to expel us from our homes.”

And while it was Arabs who rioted in Lod and destroyed people’s property this week, Ms. Naqib said, it was a Jew who ultimately killed an Arab on Monday night — Ms. Naqib’s second cousin.

“I feel very afraid,” Ms. Naqib said as she arrived at her cousin’s wake. “And I feel a lot of anger that these settlers can start to shoot us.”

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Live Updates: Israeli and Palestinian Violence Escalates to Major Crisis

with little international pressure on Israel to compromise or grant any concessions to Arabs under occupation.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, visiting the southern city of Ashkelon near Gaza on Wednesday, suggested that the Israel Defense Forces’ campaign against Gaza militants was not about to end.

The military “will continue to strike and will bring complete quiet for the long term,” he said. “There is currently no end date.”

Israel’s latest operation targeted the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas and one of several Palestinian militant factions in active in Gaza. The Israeli military said a joint operation of soldiers and intelligence officers across Gaza had simultaneously killed the commanders, who were close to Muhammed Deif, the leader of the Qassam Brigades.

Without Qassam’s soldiers, Hamas would struggle to control Gaza. Its leaders have long been the targets of Israeli assassinations, and Mr. Deif was himself wounded in one attempt in 2006.

Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The wave of unrest and riots has spread across Arab-populated towns in Israel and parts of the occupied West Bank. Two days of Israeli strikes on Gaza, which is controlled by the militant group Hamas, have killed at least 53 Palestinians, including 14 children, and wounded more than 300 people in Gaza by Wednesday afternoon, according to Palestinian health officials.

Rockets fired by militants from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, a smaller Palestinian group, targeted the Israeli cities of Ashkelon, Tel Aviv and Lod, among others. At least six people were killed and at least 100 were injured, according to Israeli health officials. One Israeli was killed was on Wednesday morning by an anti-tank missile near the Gaza perimeter.

The violence was fueled by a police raid on an Islamic religious site in Jerusalem on Monday. By Tuesday, the conflict had broadened, with civilians on both sides paying a price. The speed of the escalation appeared to take Israelis by surprise.

“Hamas and Islamic Jihad have paid, and will pay, a very heavy price for their aggression,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address to Israelis late Tuesday. “This campaign will take time,” he said.

Area of

extent

Mediterranean

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The police raided

Al Aqsa Mosque

on Monday to

disperse crowds

and protesters.

Palestinian militants fired

hundreds of rockets toward

Jerusalem and at coastal

Israeli cities, killing at

least three people.

Israel launched at

least 130 retaliatory

airstrikes at Gaza,

killing at least 30

Palestinians.

Gaza

Strip

Area of

extent

The police raided

Al Aqsa Mosque on

Monday to disperse

crowds and protesters.

Palestinian militants fired

hundreds of rockets toward

Jerusalem and at coastal

Israeli cities, killing at

least three people.

Mediterranean

Sea

Israel launched at

least 130 retaliatory

airstrikes at Gaza,

killing at least 30

Palestinians.

Gaza

Strip

Israeli forces and

Palestinian militants

exchanged hundreds

of strikes at multiple

locations in

Gaza and Israel.

Police raided Al Aqsa

Mosque on Monday to disperse crowds and protesters.

Area of

extent

The police raided Al Aqsa

Mosque on Monday

to disperse crowds

and protesters.

Palestinian militants fired

hundreds of rockets toward

Jerusalem and at coastal

Israeli cities, killing at

least three people.

Mediterranean

Sea

Israel launched at

least 130 retaliatory

airstrikes at Gaza,

killing at least 30

Palestinians.

Gaza

Strip

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 Palestinian militant groups had their own code name for their campaign: Sword of Jerusalem.

Compounding the sense of crisis inside Israel, protests and riots resumed on Tuesday night in mixed Jewish-Arab towns and Arab population centers across the country as Palestinian citizens of Israel expressed solidarity with Gaza and frustration over discrimination against Arabs within Israel.

Palestinian citizens of Israel rioted in the mixed city of Lod, setting fire to a synagogue and dozens of cars. A popular Jewish-owned fish restaurant went up in flames in the city of Acre, and television images showed a Jewish mob stoning Arab vehicles in the city of Ramla.

Arab Israelis during a funeral in the Israeli city of Lod on Tuesday.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The International Criminal Court’s main prosecutor said on Wednesday that she was closely watching Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, for potential new war crimes in the current conflict.

“I note with great concern the escalation of violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as in and around Gaza, and the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute,” the prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement. She was referring to the court’s statute on crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Ms. Bensouda’s office said in March, before the latest conflict erupted, that it had begun an investigation into mutual accusations of war crimes by Israel and Palestinian militant groups. That decision, which infuriated Israeli leaders, was largely welcomed by the Palestinian leadership and its supporters.

The court had already started a preliminary investigation six years earlier, on the heels of the 50-day Israel-Gaza conflict in 2014. It covers alleged crimes since June 13, 2014, shortly before the start of that fighting.

Israel is not a member of the International Criminal Court, which is based in The Hague, and it has maintained that the court has no jurisdiction over the area in question. But the court ruled that its jurisdiction extended to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, Ms. Bensouda said that her office would continue to monitor the situation and address “any matter that falls within its jurisdiction.” The prosecutor’s office will investigate all sides to assess whether there is individual criminal responsibility under the statute, she added.

“I echo the call from the international community for calm, restraint and a stop to the violence,” she added.

Violence is escalating in Gaza and Israel, with Israel carrying out airstrikes on the Gaza Strip and militants in Gaza firing rockets into Israel.

President Biden, as vice president in 2016, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in Jerusalem.
Credit…Pool photo by Debbie Hill

President Biden took office with little interest in pursuing an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement for understandable reasons: Predecessors in both parties had failed in their attempts.

Bill Clinton hosted an Israeli-Palestinian summit during his first year in office. Barack Obama appointed a Middle East peace envoy on his second full day. Donald J. Trump vowed even before being inaugurated to secure an Israel-Palestinian peace deal that “no one else has managed to get.” George W. Bush, who took up the cause later in his presidency, also faced frustration.

Even before the latest explosion of violence in Israel and Gaza, analysts agreed that such a peace deal looked hopeless in the near term, and Mr. Biden and his senior advisers have largely accepted that status quo.

He has issued familiar endorsements of a two-state solution while making little effort to push the parties toward one. But as spiraling riots, rocket attacks and airstrikes in Jerusalem and over Gaza threaten to escalate into a major conflict, calls are growing from within the Democratic Party for Mr. Biden to play a more active role.

“The problem with the Middle East,” said Martin S. Indyk, a special envoy for Israel-Palestinian negotiations during the Obama administration, “is that you can try to turn your back on it, but it won’t turn its back on you.”

Smoke from an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City.
Credit…Mohammed Saber/EPA, via Shutterstock

With dozens dead and hundreds injured, the initial two days of the renewed conflict brought fear and loss to millions in Gaza and Israel, but the escalating crisis has bolstered the political fortunes of Hamas, the Islamist militant group that runs the Gaza Strip, and of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

A senior political leader for Hamas struck a triumphant tone on Tuesday over how rapidly the clashes in Jerusalem on Monday had expanded into a broader problem for Israel, as it faced rocket attacks from Gaza that threatened Israeli cities.

“We have managed to create an equation linking the Jerusalem and Gaza fronts,” the leader, Ismail Haniya, said in a speech recorded in Qatar and aired on a Hamas-affiliated television channel. “They are inseparable. Jerusalem and Gaza are one.”

Since coming to power in Gaza in 2007, Hamas has lost popularity because of what many Gazans see as its authoritarian approach and poor governance.

For Hamas, the conflict has allowed it to revitalize its claims to the leadership of Palestinian resistance and has framed its rocket attacks as a direct response to the Israeli police raids on the Aqsa Mosque compound, a religious site in East Jerusalem. In the process, the group presented itself as a protector of Palestinian protesters and worshipers in the city.

For Mr. Netanyahu, the conflict — along with the divisions it fosters among the opposition parties currently negotiating a coalition to topple him from power — has given him half a chance of remaining prime minister, just days after it seemed as if he might be on the way out.

“It is the story of every previous war between Israel and Hamas,” said Ghassan Khatib, a politics expert at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank. Both governments “come out of it victorious, and the public of Gaza comes out of it as losers.”

Hamas said that a number of its militants in Gaza had been killed and that others had been reported missing in an Israeli attack.

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

Neither the location nor the condition of the person said to be a battalion commander was immediately clear. But Gaza health officials said that the bodies of three civilians had been removed from the ruins of the building.

Two of them — Amira Soboh, 58, and her son Abdelrahman, 17, who had cerebral palsy — were said to be members of a family living three floors below the apartment of the person alleged to be a commander. They were killed by falling rubble, said Ms. Soboh’s older son, Osama Soboh.

Mr. Soboh, a 31-year-old civil servant, questioned why Israel had targeted a civilian building. “It’s not a military barracks — it’s not posing any danger to Israel,” he said. “This was an old woman with a child with cerebral palsy.”

Israeli security forces deployed at the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Monday.
Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The latest outburst of violence in the Middle East erupted after weeks of rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians around the Old City of Jerusalem and particularly at the Aqsa Mosque compound — one of Islam’s holiest sites and a frequent flash point of Israeli-Arab clashes.

Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, has cast itself as the Palestinian defender of the contested city of Jerusalem. It has issued threats and ultimatums demanding that the Israeli police withdraw from the site and release any protesters who were arrested.

On Monday, the Israeli police raided the mosque compound to disperse crowds and stone-throwing protesters with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-tipped bullets. More than 330 Palestinians were wounded, at least three critically, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. At least 21 police officers were wounded.

The Aqsa Mosque, in the heart of the Old City, is part of an internationally recognized heritage site sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews. The site, which Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary, has been a flash point between Israelis and Palestinians since the 1967 war, when Israel captured East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, from Jordan.

The compound, home to two ancient temples, is Judaism’s holiest site. The first temple was built by King Solomon, according to the Bible, and was later destroyed by the Babylonians. The second stood for nearly 600 years before the Roman Empire destroyed it in the first century.

An Islamic trust run by Jordan administers the site, as it did before the 1967 war. But the Israelis control access to the site, and religious tensions have occasionally exploded into violence there.

In 1990, deadly riots erupted after a group of Jewish extremists sought, unsuccessfully, to lay a cornerstone for a temple to replace the two destroyed in ancient times.

In 2000, a visit to the site by the right-wing Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, who later became prime minister, led to an angry Palestinian backlash that swelled into their second uprising, or Intifada.

In 2017, a deadly shooting at the site led the Israeli authorities to restrict access and install metal detectors, enraging Muslim worshipers and causing a crisis with Jordan. The crisis eased after Israel dismantled the extra security.

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China Wants to Boost Births. But It’s Wary of Losing Control.

When Fan Jianhua had her third daughter last April, she was afraid that she would be fined for violating China’s birth limits.

Ms. Fan was already heavily in debt paying for treatment for her 6-year-old, who has leukemia. To her relief, when she registered her new baby with the police, she didn’t have to pay the $7,500 fine.

“I was really happy and could finally relax,” said Ms. Fan, 34, a stay-at-home mother in the central city of Danjiangkou, in Hubei Province.

Slowly, in fits and starts, China’s ruling Communist Party is loosening its long-held restrictions over childbirth and women’s bodies. Some local governments have tacitly allowed couples to have more than two children. Beijing has said civil servants will no longer be fired for such infringements. Party leaders have pledged to make population policies more inclusive, a signal that some have taken to mean the rules will be eased further.

decline in birthrates. A once-a-decade population census, released on Tuesday, showed that the number of births last year fell to the lowest since the Mao era. Low fertility translates to fewer workers and weaker demand, which could stunt growth in the world’s second-largest economy.

But the party is wary of giving up control and has resisted scrapping birth restrictions wholesale. Instead, Beijing has been taking a piecemeal approach by slowly dismantling the once-powerful family-planning bureaucracy and carving out exemptions. In many places, police officers, employers and city officials are deciding how strictly, or loosely, to enforce the rules.

That can mean more freedom for some, like Ms. Fan, to have more children. But it also creates uncertainty about the risks, adding to a reluctance about having more children.

The strategy could also founder amid broad cultural changes. Anxiety over the rising cost of education, housing and health care is now deeply ingrained in society. Many Chinese simply prefer smaller families, and the government’s efforts to boost the birthrate, including introducing a two-child policy in 2016, have largely fizzled.

“If the restrictions on family planning are not lifted, and they are encouraging births at the same time, this is self-contradictory,” said Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert with the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based research center. He said that removing all birth limits would convey an important message. “I think such a step has to be taken.”

official murmurs about a reconsideration of the one-child policy surfaced but were quickly dismissed. It took years before the government moved to allow all couples to have two children.

Now, the population is aging more rapidly than those of many developed countries, including the United States, and some argue that the government cannot afford to keep any restrictions on procreation.

“We have to take advantage of the fact that a certain number of residents now are willing to give birth but aren’t allowed to,” China’s central bank said in a working paper it published on April 14. “If we wait to lift it when no one wants to give birth, it will be useless.”

harshly enforced family-planning rules in what Beijing has depicted as a fight against religious extremism. The campaign has led in recent years to a rise in sterilizations and contraceptive procedures — forcibly imposed in some cases — in the region’s Muslim-dominated areas.

China’s family-planning policy has long given local officials a powerful weapon of control — one that may be hard, or costly, to wrest back. Before they were unwound, family-planning agencies hired around eight million people, down to the village level, who corralled women to be fitted with intrauterine devices or coerced them into abortions.

The officials also collected large fines from couples who broke the rules. One senior researcher at the Central Party School estimated in 2015 that the fees amounted to between $3 billion and $5 billion annually.

In recent years, the government has been reassigning family-planning employees to roles including in population research and tackling Covid-19. But local governments retain the power to enforce birth limits as they see fit, which has led to inconsistencies.

The central government said in May last year that civil servants did not have to lose their jobs for violating birth limits, yet months later, a village committee in the eastern city of Hangzhou fired a woman after she had a third child — prompting a public outcry.

Ultimately, the fate of China’s family-planning policies may change little. A generation of highly educated women are putting off marriage and childbirth for other reasons, including a rejection of traditional attitudes that dictate women should bear most of the responsibility of raising children and doing housework.

Liu Qing, a 38-year-old editor of children’s books in Beijing, said getting married and having children were never in her future because they would come at too great a personal cost.

“All the things that you want — your ideals and your ambitions — have to be sacrificed,” Ms. Liu said.

Ms. Liu said Chinese society imposed a motherhood penalty on women, pointing to the discrimination that mothers often faced in hiring.

“I’m furious about this environment,” she said. “I’m not the kind of person who would accept this reality and compromise. I just won’t.”

For other Chinese, having fewer children is a matter of necessity when holes in the country’s social safety net mean that a major illness can lead to financial ruin.

Ms. Fan, the woman in Hubei who was spared a fine, said that she and her husband, a laborer, were getting increasingly desperate. Public health insurance had covered half the cost of her daughter’s treatment for leukemia, but they were on the hook for $76,000.

She had a third child only because she heard that a sibling’s cord blood could help in the treatment of leukemia. But she later learned that such treatment would cost more than $100,000.

“I don’t dare think about the future,” Ms. Fan said. She added that if her daughter’s condition deteriorated or they went broke, they would have to give up treatment.

“We can only leave it up to her fate,” she said.

Research was contributed by Claire Fu, Liu Yi, Albee Zhang and Elsie Chen.

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