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Israel strikes Gaza targets after rockets fly

by The Associated. Press | April 25, 2021 at 4:53 a.m.
Palestinian Hamas supporters chant anti Israel slogans during a protest in solidarity with Muslim worshippers in Jerusalem, in Gaza City, Friday, April. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

JERUSALEM -- Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired some three dozen rockets into Israel overnight Saturday, while the Israeli military struck back at targets operated by the ruling Hamas group. The exchange tookplace as tensions in Jerusalem spilled over into the worst round of cross-border violence in months.

The barrage of rocket fire occurred as hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli police in east Jerusalem. The clashes, in which at least four police and six protesters were injured, have become a nightly occurrence throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and show no signs of stopping.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZ3GDSv7z5U]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he held talks with top security officials. He said he instructed officials to be ready for "every scenario" in Gaza. In Jerusalem, he said Israel would guarantee "freedom of worship" for everyone, and he appealed for calm. "We ask now for people to obey the law and I call for a calming of tempers on all sides."

The U.N. envoy to the region, Tor Wennesland, condemned the violence and said the United Nations was working with all sides to restore calm.

"The provocative acts across Jerusalem must cease. The indiscriminate launching of rockets towards Israeli population centers violates international law and must stop immediately," he said. "I reiterate my call upon all sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further escalation, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan and this politically charged time for all."

Meanwhile, Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi is weighing "a series of steps for possible responses," and preparations if the situation continued to escalate, the military said in a statement. He also postponed a trip to the United States that was scheduled for today.

The U.S. also appealed for calm, while neighboring Jordan, which serves as the custodian for Jerusalem's Muslim holy sites, condemned Israel's actions.

Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, has long been a flash point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2014, similar tensions flared into a 50-day war between Israel and Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group.

The Israeli military said 36 rockets were fired into Israel throughout the night. It said six rockets were intercepted, while most of the others landed in open areas. There were no reports of injuries or serious damage, but the rocket fire set off air-raid sirens throughout southern Israel.

Gallery: Protests in Israel

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In response, the army said fighter jets and helicopters struck a number of Hamas targets in Gaza, including an underground facility and rocket launchers. Hamas did not claim responsibility for the rocket fire, but Israel considers the group responsible for all fire emanating from the territory.

The military imposed limits on outdoor gatherings in southern Israel early Saturday but lifted the restrictions several hours later and allowed people to resume their normal routines.

Israel and Hamas, an Islamic group sworn to Israel's destruction, are bitter enemies that have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Although neither side appears to have an interest in escalating tensions, Hamas sees itself as the defender of Jerusalem and may feel obligated to act, or at least tacitly encourage rocket attacks by other groups, ahead of Palestinian parliamentary elections. Hamas' armed wing has warned Israel "not to test" its patience.

At dawn, hundreds of people in Gaza challenged nightly curfews imposed by Hamas to curb the coronavirus outbreak and took to the streets in an act of solidarity with fellow Palestinians in Jerusalem, burning tires.

Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police nightly since the start of Ramadan nearly two weeks ago.

Palestinians hold Hamas movement green flags attend a protest in solidarity with Muslim worshippers in Jerusalem, in Gaza City, Friday, April. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Palestinians hold Hamas movement green flags attend a protest in solidarity with Muslim worshippers in Jerusalem, in Gaza City, Friday, April. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
A wounded Palestinian demonstrator receives treatment after he was hit during clashes with Israeli police at Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem's Old City, Thursday, April 22, 2021. Palestinians clash with Israeli police over restrictions on Ramadan gatherings ahead of a planned march by Lahava, a Jewish extremist group, to the area later on Thursday amid heightened tensions in the city. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A wounded Palestinian demonstrator receives treatment after he was hit during clashes with Israeli police at Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem's Old City, Thursday, April 22, 2021. Palestinians clash with Israeli police over restrictions on Ramadan gatherings ahead of a planned march by Lahava, a Jewish extremist group, to the area later on Thursday amid heightened tensions in the city. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
An Israeli policeman films Muslim worshippers leaving the Old City of Jerusalem after Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on Friday, April 23, 2021.   Israeli police say 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
An Israeli policeman films Muslim worshippers leaving the Old City of Jerusalem after Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on Friday, April 23, 2021. Israeli police say 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Israeli police use the Damascus Gate to watch Muslim worshippers leave the Old City of Jerusalem after Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on Friday, April 23, 2021.  Israeli police say 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Israeli police use the Damascus Gate to watch Muslim worshippers leave the Old City of Jerusalem after Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on Friday, April 23, 2021. Israeli police say 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Israeli Border Police patrol the Old City of Jerusalem as worshippers arrive for Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on Friday, April 23, 2021.  Israeli police say 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Israeli Border Police patrol the Old City of Jerusalem as worshippers arrive for Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on Friday, April 23, 2021. Israeli police say 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Israeli police watch a Muslim worshipper leaving the Old City of Jerusalem after Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on Friday, April 23, 2021.    Israeli police say 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Israeli police watch a Muslim worshipper leaving the Old City of Jerusalem after Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on Friday, April 23, 2021. Israeli police say 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Israeli border police block members of "Lahava", a Jewish extremist group on approach to Damascus Gate to protest amid heightened tensions in the city, just outside Jerusalem's Old City, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli border police block members of "Lahava", a Jewish extremist group on approach to Damascus Gate to protest amid heightened tensions in the city, just outside Jerusalem's Old City, Thursday, April 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli riot police officers ask a woman dressed as a clown to leave the area during clashes at Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem's Old City, Thursday, April 22, 2021. Israeli police manned barricades to prevent hundreds of Jewish extremists from marching to the area as police clashed with Palestinians on a nightly basis since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last week, when they set up barricades at Damascus Gate, a traditional outdoor gathering spot. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli riot police officers ask a woman dressed as a clown to leave the area during clashes at Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem's Old City, Thursday, April 22, 2021. Israeli police manned barricades to prevent hundreds of Jewish extremists from marching to the area as police clashed with Palestinians on a nightly basis since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan last week, when they set up barricades at Damascus Gate, a traditional outdoor gathering spot. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli police stand at a checkpoint with a sign in Arabic that reads, "Al-Aqsa Mosque," in the Old City of Jerusalem for Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan,  on Friday, April 23, 2021.  Israeli police say 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Israeli police stand at a checkpoint with a sign in Arabic that reads, "Al-Aqsa Mosque," in the Old City of Jerusalem for Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on Friday, April 23, 2021. Israeli police say 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
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