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Tensions simmer in Jerusalem after Israel responds to rocket attacks with strikes on targets in Syria

Israel's military said six rockets were launched from Syria in two separate batches and three had been intercepted.
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JERUSALEM — Israel's military said it struck targets in Syria Sunday after rare rocket fire from its northeastern neighbor as tensions simmered at a volatile Jerusalem shrine important to both Jewish and Muslim worshippers.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that fighter jets had hit targets, including “military radars systems and artillery posts,” and “a military compound of the Fourth Division of the Syrian Armed Forces.” This followed strikes on rocket launchers that had fired toward Israeli territory, the statement said.

In separate tweets, the IDF said six rockets were launched from Syria toward Israel in two separate batches and three had been intercepted.

One of the rockets landed in the southern Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the IDF said. The area borders Syria, which considers the territory as its own. Seized by Israel from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967, it has been annexed since 1981. It is considered an occupied territory under international law. 

No damage or casualties were reported in Israeli territory, and it was unclear if there were casualties in Syria.

Yoav Gallant, Israel's defense minister, later tweeted that he had ordered that the crossing from Gaza be closed “until the end of the Jewish Passover holiday,” which concludes Wednesday. “IDF forces will increase the activity of the Israel Police wherever necessary,” he said.  

His comments came after Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV quoted Al-Quds Brigade, a militia different from the larger Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s armed wing with a similar name, as saying it fired the rockets to retaliate for the police raid on Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to the Associated Press. NBC News was unable to independently verify this.

The strikes on the Christian holy day of Easter came hours before thousands of Jewish worshippers gathered at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, for a mass priestly benediction prayer service for the Passover holiday.

Above the Western Wall, hundreds of Palestinians performed prayers as part of observances during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Hundreds of Jews also visited the compound under heavy police guard.

The site has been at the center of violent scenes in recent days as Muslim worshippers attempting to stay overnight in the mosque were forcibly removed by Israeli police, who beat worshippers — including women and children — using batons, chairs and rifles and fired stun guns at youths who hurled firecrackers back.

Israeli authorities typically only permit Palestinian worshippers to stay overnight in the mosque during the final 10 days of Ramadan, and regularly enter to evict attendees staying overnight outside this period.

Sitting on a hilltop sacred to both Jews and Muslims, the spot, known to Jews as Temple Mount, is the holiest site in Judaism, revered as the location of biblical Jewish temples. It is also the third-holiest site in Islam.

Conflicting claims over the area have frequently spilled out into violence previously, most recently in an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in 2021 in which both sides claimed victory.

Militant groups in Lebanon and Gaza responded to raids on the al-Aqsa mosque with rocket fire last week and Israel launched a wave of airstrikes on Lebanon and Gaza early Friday after dozens of rockets struck the north of the country the day before. 

No group claimed responsibility for the rocket fire from Lebanon, although Israel blamed Hamas, and said that it was investigating the involvement of Hezbollah, a Shiite Islamist political party and militant group in Lebanon that also has links to Iran. 

Elsewhere on Sunday, a large funeral service was held for Aaed Azzam Salim, 20, who was shot dead during clashes in the town of Azzun in the West Bank.

His death Saturday came less than 24 hours after an Italian tourist was killed in Tel Aviv in a car-ramming attack and two British-Israeli sisters were shot dead and their mother seriously injured in an attack in the West Bank on Friday.

Since the start of this year, 95 Palestinians have died, including 17 children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Lawahez Jabari reported from Jerusalem and Leila Sackur from London.