Twenty six Palestinians have been killed by airstrikes in Gaza, while seven Israelis have been wounded by rocket barrage in the south, as fighting continued on Tuesday pushing both sides to the brink of war.
Meanwhile, in the south of Israel, seven Israeli civilians were wounded, two of them moderately in a barrage of rockets by Palestinian militants which continued to rain down on the Israeli population overnight.
Israel unleashed a wave of air raids on the tiny blockaded strip after Hamas, the militant group which runs Gaza, fired long-range rockets towards Jerusalem, over 100km away, for the first time since 2014. In total, Gaza militants have fired more than 200 rockets, claimed the Israeli miitary.
Military officials added that Israel had hit “130 targets” in Gaza, including the home of top Hamas commander.
Hamas had warned on Monday of a serious escalation after Israeli forces stormed Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, amid a wave of unrest in the contested city, which saw Israeli police deploy tear gas, skunk water and stun grenades against Palestinian protesters who threw rocks and bottles back.
More than 700 Palestinians were injured in the 24 hours of violence, including six medics, according to the Palestinian health authorities.
Several Israeli police officers were also wounded.
In the past, cross border flare-ups and violence have been ended by furious mediation by countries like Egypt and the west.
But despite horrific videos showing the fatalities in Gaza, and rocket sirens sending families scrambling for their bomb shelters in Israel, neither side shows signs of backing down.
“We have an intense day ahead of us,” Israeli army spokesman Hidai Zilberman Zilberman warned local media on Tuesday morning, adding, “We have a goal and we will not stop until we’ve reached it.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Monday that fighting could “continue for some time”.
Abu Obeida, spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing, said the attack on Jerusalem was a response to what he called Israeli “crimes and aggression” in the city.
“This is a message the enemy has to understand well,” he said.
The surge in violence came after weeks of simmering tensions mostly focused around the tinderbox city of Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital.
But unrest first erupted after the controversial decision by Israeli authorities in the holy month of Ramadan to cordon off the historic Damascus Gate to the Old City, where Palestinian families traditionally like to gather during Iftar, the evening meal to break the fast during this time.
After weeks of nightly unrest, Israeli police eventually withdrew the barricades.
But anger only boiled over again, in response to the possibility of the forced eviction of four Palestinian families from the nearby East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on land claimed by Jewish settlers.
The deeply controversial decision, which Israel’s Supreme Court was due to rule on Monday but postponed due to unrest, could amount to war crimes according to the United Nations.
Despite international anger, the issue has been dismissed by Israel’s foreign ministry as a private “real-estate dispute”.
Amid protests and clashes, Israeli forces then beefed up their security presence in and around the Old City, the volcanic and emotional heart of the conflict, and later stormed the al-Aqsa mosque, throwing stun-grenades and tear-gas canisters at worshippers inside the building.
Palestinian protesters meanwhile hurled rockets, bottles and fireworks back at security forces.
This reached a breaking point on Monday when thousands of religious nationalist Israelis took to the streets for “Jerusalem Day” a controversial celebration marking Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem and the walled Old City during the 1967 Middle East war and its later decision to de jure annex both areas.
Hamas gave Israel until 6pm Monday to remove its forces from the al-Aqsa compound and release recent detainees. When that deadline passed took the extraordinary step of launching long-range rockets at Jerusalem.
Political leaders around the world and the United Nations have urged calm.
On Tuesday, the Arab League called Israeli air strikes on Gaza “indiscriminate and irresponsible”.
In Washington on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration, including President Joe Biden himself, was monitoring the violence.
“We have serious concerns about the situation, including violent confrontations that we’ve seen over the last few days,” she told reporters.
The US Embassy in Israel said the rocket fire was “unacceptable”.
The UN Security Council held emergency consultations Monday on the escalating violence in east Jerusalem and was considering a proposed statement calling on Israel to cease evictions and calling for “restraint” and respect for “the historic status quo at the holy sites”.