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Violence in Gaza intensifies due to clashes in Jerusalem

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Israeli air forces and Palestinian insurgents exchanged fire on the Gaza border early Thursday as clashes erupted again at one of Jerusalem’s most contentious holy sites, fueling an escalation of violence that it is eerily similar to the one that preceded the war between Israel and Gaza last year.

The clashes along the Gaza border, fueled by unrest between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem, appear to be the worst cross-border incidents since last year’s 11-day conflict and come despite efforts to prevent their repetition. A projectile launched from the Strip this week ended months of calm after the war.

Palestinian insurgents fired two rockets into Israel on Wednesday night and early Thursday, and an Israeli military plane hit insurgent targets in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. One of the shells landed in Sderot, a town in southern Israel that is a regular target, and the other did not make it past the border of the coastal enclave, the Israeli army said. The launches set off air-raid sirens throughout southern Israel, disrupting the calm of the week-long Passover holiday.

Early on Thursday, Israeli aircraft carried out strikes in the center of the Strip, according to local media. Social media posts from activists showed smoke rising from the sky. According to the army, the operation was directed against an insurgent site and the entrance to a tunnel that leads to an underground complex with chemical products to manufacture rockets.

The army later explained that its planes hit another Hamas compound after an anti-aircraft missile was launched from Gaza. The projectile missed its target and no personal or material damage was reported, he added.

The latest tensions arose after a series of deadly attacks by Palestinians on Israelis, which led to days of military raids for arrests in a West Bank city with a strong insurgent presence and daily clashes in Jerusalem. This year, Ramadan, Islam’s holy month, coincides with Passover, a time of great religiosity when many people visit Jerusalem.

Israeli police reported that dozens of masked protesters barricaded themselves in the Al-Aqsa Mosque early Thursday, sealed the doors of the temple and began throwing stones and firecrackers. Authorities said they tried to disperse the Palestinians using “riot control dispersal methods,” without providing further details, noting that the forces did not enter the temple.

A Palestinian official from the Waqf, which runs the site, said a large number of officers used stun grenades to clear the area. The officers also fired stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets at Palestinians who barricaded themselves in the mosque, added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the incidents with the press.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 20 people were injured, one of them seriously.

Although the clashes have been repeated throughout the week, the most serious occurred at the beginning of the month when more than 150 Palestinians and three Israeli agents were injured.

Palestinians have accused Israeli police of using excessive force at the holy site, and social media has been abuzz with videos showing Israeli officers beating what appear to be unarmed Palestinians, including women. Police say Palestinians are instigating the violence and have released their own recordings of Palestinian youths throwing stones and firecrackers at their troops. According to the authorities, the Palestinians are desecrating their own temple and endangering others.

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