Militants in Gaza launched rocket barrages into Israel for a second day on Tuesday and Israeli planes fired missiles in the Palestinian territory, where the health ministry said the death toll rose to at least 26, including nine children.
The most serious outbreak of fighting between armed factions in Hamas Islamist-run Gaza and Israel since 2019 began with confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli police at Al Asqa Mosque in Jerusalem on Monday.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions have been high in the holy city during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with sporadic clashes and possible evictions of Palestinians from homes claimed by Jewish settlers in a long-running court case adding to the friction.
A Palestinian official said Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were trying to stem the escalating violence, amid international concern that events could spiral out of control.
The Gaza health ministry said at least 26 Palestinians, including nine children, had been killed and 122 wounded by Israeli strikes in the enclave of two million people since Hamas on Monday fired rockets towards Jerusalem for the first time since 2014.
Israel disputed the account, saying it had killed at least 15 Hamas fighters and that a third of the more than 250 rockets launched by militants had fallen short, causing Palestinian civilian casualties.
In one Gaza neighborhood, an Israeli missile exploded inside an apartment in a multi-story building, killing three Islamic Jihad members, an official from the militant group said.
Police said 31 people were hurt by rocket strikes in southern Israel, though the military said its air defences were intercepting around 90% of the cross-border launches.
Hamas said that in one five-minute barrage alone, it had fired 137 missiles at Ashkelon and Ashdod, two coastal cities south of Tel Aviv, where live TV showed at least two homes on fire.
The multiple launchings appeared to be an attempt to overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.
A school in Ashkelon was hit by a rocket, Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said. Classes had been cancelled in the area and the building was empty.
Israeli television news showed Israeli tanks massing on the Gaza border as officials said infantry and armour reinforcements were being dispatched. But military affairs commentators saw a ground operation in densely populated Gaza as unlikely.
In the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, Abdel-Hamid Hamad, whose nephew Hussein, 11, was killed on Monday in what residents said was an Israeli air strike, told Reuters the boy was collecting wood to be used in construction when he was hit.
“Gaza has had enough, and nothing makes a difference now. Our children are getting killed. What should we do?” Hamad said.
In Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, a woman treated for injuries after her apartment was hit recalled moments of panic.
An air conditioner fell on her and one of her children during the night and a bathroom door fell on her husband’s head, the woman told Channel 13 TV, which did not give her name.
The Arab League, some of whose members have warmed ties with Israel over the last year, accused it of “indiscriminate and irresponsible” attacks in Gaza and said it was responsible for “dangerous escalation” in Jerusalem.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel should stop “immediately.” He urged all sides to take steps to reduce tensions.
Arabs protest in Israel
Israel has also seen a spread of pro-Palestinian protests, some violent, among its 21% Arab minority.
In the ethnically mixed town of Lod, witnesses quoted by Israeli media said one or two armed Jews shot at rioting Arabs, killing one and wounding two. The dead man’s father told the Walla news site he had been ambushed while on a family visit.
The accounts could not immediately be confirmed. Israeli police said it had arrested two Lod men for suspected involvement in the shooting incident.
On Monday, more than 300 Palestinians were injured at Al Asqa Mosque in clashes with Israeli police, who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas in the compound, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Police said 21 officers were hurt in the skirmishes.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, a status not generally recognized internationally. Palestinians want the eastern sector – captured by Israel in a 1967 war – as the capital of a future state and have been incensed by Israeli court-ordered evictions there to make way for Jewish settlers. A hearing on the evictions was postponed on Sunday.