Early on April 5, Israeli police stormed the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem during Ramadan prayers, arresting hundreds of Palestinians and provoking retaliatory rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
Police officers smashed doors and windows to enter al-Aqsa, one of Islam’s holiest sites, and deployed stun grenades and rubber bullets once inside. Videos that surfaced online show the officers striking screaming people with batons inside the mosque.
In a statement, the Israeli Police said that its officers stormed the mosque after “hundreds of rioters and mosque desecrators (had) barricaded themselves” inside.
“When the police entered, stones were thrown at them, and fireworks were fired from inside the mosque by a large group of agitators,” according to the statement.
Police said they arrested and removed more than 350 people in al-Aqsa, and that one officer was wounded in the leg by stones. From its side, the Palestinian Red Crescent in Jerusalem said at least 12 people were injured during clashes in and around the mosque,
The actions of Israeli Police drew condemnation from across the Arab and Muslim world, including from both Iran and Saudi Arabia.
In an apparent retaliation to the incident, Palestinian fighters fired rockets at several towns in southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.
Rocket sirens were heard in Sderot and a number of nearby settlements in the early morning. Later, further sirens sounded at a kibbutz in the area.The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said that five rockets were launched in the initial salvo, four of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system. The military added that four more rockets were fired shortly after, all of which fell in open areas.
The rocket fire didn’t result in any casualties. However, the Sderot Municipality said one of the rockets hit a factory in the industrial area, causing damage.
The Hamas Movement, the de-facto ruler of Gaza, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second largest faction in the strip, were among the first to condemn the Israeli Police assault on al-Aqsa mosque. Neither of the factions have claimed responsibility for the rocket fire. However, media reports suggested that the al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Jihad, was behind the attacks.
The IDF launched a series of strikes on the Gaza Strip in response to the rocket fire. The military said that the targets included a weapons factory and a weapons storage facility belonging to the military wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. No casualties were reported after the strikes. It’s worth noting that Israel holds the movement responsible for all attacks emanating from the territory it rules.
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem have been on the rise for a while now. In recent months, 15 Israelis were killed in attacks by Palestinians. During the same period, the IDF and security forces killed 86 Palestinians.
Violence in the West Bank spread to Gaza on several occasions recently. The Israel crackdown on Palestinians could eventually lead to a new confrontation in the strip.