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Hamas fires rockets into Israel as tensions in Jerusalem boil over

The violence comes on Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of Israel's capture of parts of the city in the 1967 Six-Day War.
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JERUSALEM — Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip fired rockets toward Jerusalem on Monday in a major escalation after hundreds of Palestinians were hurt during earlier clashes with Israeli forces at a site sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

Israel responded by attacking Hamas targets in Gaza, where health officials said 20 people, including nine children, were killed during the exchange.

The rockets came on the anniversary of Israel's capture of the Old City of Jerusalem and its eastern neighborhoods in the 1967 Six-Day War. Explosions and air raid sirens were heard in Jerusalem after the Hamas set a deadline for Israel to remove its security forces from flashpoints in Jerusalem and release Palestinians detained in the latest clashes.

Image: Rockets fired from Gaza City
Rockets are fired Monday toward Israel from Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images

Abu Ubaida, spokesman for Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, said the rocket attack was a response to what he called Israeli “crimes and aggression” in Jerusalem. “This is a message the enemy should understand well,” he said.

The Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, said 45 missiles were fired into Israel in what the organization's spokesperson called a "blatant, severe attack" by Hamas.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said in a briefing to foreign reporters that six of the rockets were fired into Jerusalem, and one missile hit a house in the outskirts of the city, but no one was injured.

Conricus added that the IDF was preparing for "various scenarios," without elaborating.

He said the last time a missile was aimed at Jerusalem was in 2014.

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Conricus put no timeframe on any Israeli offensive, only saying, "Hamas will pay a heavy price."

During the rocket fire into Jerusalem, Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, had to stop its session and evacuate.

During earlier tensions in the city, the Palestinian Red Crescent told The Associated Press that more than 305 Palestinians were injured in the clashes that took place in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City, and at least 228 were taken to hospitals.

Police said 21 officers were hurt, according to the news agency, including three who were hospitalized.

A spokesperson for the mosque said the clashes began when police tried to evacuate the compound, where many Palestinian worshippers sleep during the holy month of Ramadan, to allow Israelis in.

The injured on Monday included an Israeli 7-month-old, who was hit in the head with a stone and was under observation in the pediatric emergency room, Hadassah Hospital spokesperson Hadar Elboim said. In total, the hospital treated five people, all in mild condition.

Image: Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces
Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on Monday.Mahmoud Illean / AP

Earlier, police had announced a change to the route of a traditional Jerusalem Day flag march, which draws thousands of participants each year. Instead of beginning at the Damascus Gate, a historic landmark on the north side of the Old City adjacent to several Palestinian neighborhoods, it would begin at the Jaffa Gate, which is next to Jewish neighborhoods.

Because of the rocket fire toward Jerusalem and the surrounding area, organizers of the march were told to stop the event and ask the participants to leave, the spokesman for city police said.

The violence comes after dozens of people were seriously injured Friday at the mosque compound ahead of a special evening prayer held during Ramadan.

The Red Crescent Society said that Israeli forces used rubber-coated bullets on Palestinians on Monday.

The site, holy to both Muslims and Jews, is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Israel provides security for the compound, while neighboring Jordan manages the ceremonial and religious aspects of the complex.

"We were expecting from yesterday that the police will attack Al-Aqsa Mosque," spokesperson Awni Bazbaz said. "Around 8 a.m. this morning, the police started going into the compound to evacuate the worshippers inside the mosque and the compound. They started attacking immediately."

A spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas slammed the "brutal storming and assault" by Israeli forces and called it "a new challenge to the international community, specifically the efforts made by the American administration."

Image: An Israeli police officer protects a Jewish driver
An Israeli police officer protects a Jewish driver near Jerusalem's Old City on Monday.Ohad Zwigenberg / AP

According to Israeli police, the clashes began when Palestinian protesters threw stones at a gate that leads down to the Western Wall, where thousands of Jews had gathered to pray. The police then ordered forces to push back the protesters, police said.

"Extremist Palestinians planned well in advance to carry out riots today on the Temple Mount," Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, along with photos of piles of rocks.

Israeli police released video of Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli forces outside the mosque.

Netanyahu voiced his support for Israeli forces Monday and said at a state memorial service for Ethiopian Jews that Israel was “working to ensure freedom of worship and tolerance for all.”

“This is not a task we can perform without confrontation from time to time,” he said.

Tensions in Jerusalem have been heightened since Ramadan began on April 12, particularly after Israel blocked off a popular spot where Muslims traditionally gather each night at the end of their daylong fast. Israel later removed the restrictions, but clashes continued.

The violence also came before a crucial court case in a long-running legal battle involving the homes of four Palestinian families on land claimed by Jewish settlers in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday, citing the “circumstances.”

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 Six-Day War with its Arab neighbors. Israel views the entire city as its capital and annexed east Jerusalem, a move not recognized by the majority of the international community. Palestinians want east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza, as part of a future Palestinian state.

Lawahez Jabari reported from Jerusalem; Paul Goldman from Tel Aviv; Rachel Elbaum and Yuliya Talmazan from London; and Rima Abdelkader and Suzanne Ciechalski from New York.