Early Wednesday morning, terrorist groups in Gaza launched rockets at several southern Israeli towns after police clashed with Palestinian worshippers inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
An Israeli soldier was later wounded in a shooting near Hebron in the West Bank as Israeli-Palestinian tensions soared during Ramadan and the beginning of Passover.
Alert systems sounded warnings in Sderot and other nearby towns. A short time later, additional warning sirens were activated in a nearby kibbutz.
In total, 5 projectiles were launched as part of the initial assault with 4 of them being intercepted by air defense systems. According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), 4 additional rockets were fired shortly after the initial attack, but all of those fell in open areas.
While there were no reports of injuries, the Sderot Municipality reported damage to a factory in an industrial area where one of the rockets landed.
In response to the rocket attacks, the Palestinian media reported on Wednesday morning that the IDF hit targets in Gaza, which set off additional warning sirens in several southern communities. There was no immediate confirmation of the Gaza strikes from the IDF.
Before the warning sirens were triggered, Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza, denounced the actions of police at the Jerusalem holy site, calling it an "unprecedented crime" and called for Palestinians "to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it." After Hamas' calls to gather at the mosque, Gazans gathered in the street to head for the guarded Gaza-Israeli border for violent demonstrations.
Hamas was not the only organization calling for Palestinians to gather at the mosque. A second Gaza-based terrorist group, Islamic Jihad, also called for local Palestinian residents from the West Bank, Israel, and Jerusalem to gather at the mosque and face the IDF.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President, issued a warning to Israel that it should not be "crossing red lines" at holy sites as it could lead to a "big explosion."
Nabil Abu Rudeineh also issued a statement saying, "We hold the occupation government fully responsible for any deterioration, and it must act responsibly and stop this absurdity, which will have dangerous consequences for everyone." The statement was reported by the Ramallah-based PA's official Wafa news agency.
Jordan also condemned Israel's actions and accused the police of "storming" the mosque and assaulting worshippers. It released a statement that said, "The foreign ministry calls on Israel to immediately withdraw its police and special forces from the compound."
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia issued a similar statement also denouncing Israel's actions.
According to reports from police, dozens of youths barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount and armed themselves with clubs, rocks, and fireworks after evening prayers. The group also locked and barricaded the entrances to the mosque.
According to the IDF, they initially tried to get the group to leave the mosque peacefully but when those attempts were unsuccessful, they were forced to enter the mosque where the group reportedly attacked them with rocks and fireworks.
The police also noted that "the rioters caused damage to the mosque and desecrated it" and that dozens of suspects were arrested as a result of the clashes.
According to the police, an officer was struck in the leg with a rock but his condition was not made public. Meanwhile, according to Palestinians, dozens more were wounded, with many suffering from smoke inhalation.
A statement issued by police said, "Unfortunately at the same time many police are working to allow freedom of worship while maintaining security, the law and [public] order... There are those who choose to riot and disturb public order. These same rioters are first and foremost harming the Muslim public which comes to pray at the mosque."
The demonstrations, barricading, and violence at the Al-Asqa Mosque came after police shot and wounded a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in the Silwan neighborhood nearby late Tuesday night. According to police, the teen was part of a group of suspects who harassed a security vehicle by throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the vehicle. Police opened fire after someone in the group tried to open the vehicle's doors.
The teenage victim was in stable condition and had been transported to a hospital for treatment, police confirmed.
As for the soldier who was shot near Hebron, the military said they were also transported to a hospital in Jerusalem for treatment. The soldier was shot as gunfire broke out during clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the village of Beit Ummar. No status was provided on the soldier's condition.
The IDF was continuing its search for suspects related to that shooting.
Ramadan, which is an Islamic holy month, began last week and ends on April 21, usually sees a rise in Israeli-Palestinian tensions. This year, however, tensions were already heightened in Jerusalem and the West Bank due to a rash of deadly violence in recent months.
Fifteen Israelis have died in recent Palestinian terrorist attacks in both Israel and the West Bank, while at least 86 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year. Most of those deaths have occurred either during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks. Some of those deaths, unfortunately, include uninvolved citizens and others that have died under circumstances that are now being investigated.
The past several months have also seen a rise in settler violence against Palestinians.
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