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.
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
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.