TEL AVIV, Israel – Israel launched airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on Friday evening in response to rocket attacks by Palestinian militants, as tensions in Jerusalem turned into the worst round of cross-border violence in months.
The barrage of rockets came as hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli police in East Jerusalem, in which at least 4 police officers and 6 protesters were injured. The clashes became a nighttime event during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The IDF said 36 rockets were fired from Gaza overnight, shortly after its Islamist leaders called for Palestinian resistance in Jerusalem. Israeli planes retaliated by hitting Hamas rocket launchers and underground infrastructure, the army added.
There were no immediate reports of casualties in Gaza or on the Israeli side of the border.
The pre-dawn firefight shattered months of relative calm on the Israel-Gaza border, although it does not appear to signal a wider escalation. The IDF said it does not impose any security restrictions on Israelis living near the border.
The United Nations said it was working with all parties to calm tensions.
“I am alarmed by the recent escalations in Jerusalem and around Gaza,” United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said on Saturday.
“I reiterate my call on all parties to exercise the utmost restraint and avoid further escalation, especially during the holy month of Ramadan and in this politically charged time for all.”
Inside Jerusalem, unrest resumed Friday evening as young Palestinians gathered outside the old walled city and argued with hundreds of Israeli police, some on horseback and in riot gear, and organized demonstrations by Israeli ultra-nationalists chanting anti-Arab slogans.
The Palestinians threw stones at the police while firing water cannons. Others threw stones at an Israeli courthouse and smashed security cameras. The Palestinian Red Crescent said eight Palestinians were injured.
Palestinians say police tried to prevent them from holding their usual Ramadan evening meetings after prayers outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate by erecting metal barriers in its amphitheater-style plaza. The historic monument on the north side of the Old City is adjacent to several Palestinian neighborhoods.
The Old City is home to a sensitive sacred site known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The site, which houses the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is Islam’s third holiest site. It is also one of the most sacred sites in Judaism, revered as the place where Biblical temples once stood.
A spokesman for the Jerusalem district police said in a statement that the police “will continue to work to maintain order and prevent violent riots, harming the safety of the public” and to use “the means and capacities with which they are available. disposes, by arresting those involved and prosecuting them. “
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But Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative Movement, a political party, told NBC News that young Palestinians will continue to defend their city’s Arab identity and its future.
“The young people of Jerusalem have proven that they are the protectors of their city against the fascism of the settlers and the occupying army,” he said.
Elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops around military checkpoints. Israeli border police said they had scattered hundreds of stones and firebombs.
Jerusalem is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel claims the entire city, including its eastern sector captured in a 1967 war, as its capital. The Palestinians seek to make East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv, Lawahez Jabari from Jerusalem and Adela Suliman from London.
Reuters contributed to this report.