Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the contested city of Jerusalem have escalated into a broader conflict, with Israel striking targets in Gaza in response to rockets launched by Palestinian militants. So far 119 Palestinians, including 31 children, and eight Israelis, including one child, have died in the fighting.
The confrontation, sparked by tensions old and new, threatens to deepen the region’s turmoil. A full-blown war could force the U.S. to shift attention to the Middle East when it has been focused on Russia, China, and battling the coronavirus.
What is happening in Israel?
Israel is experiencing its worst communal violence in years.
In Jerusalem, Palestinians and Israeli police clashed in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, at the Al Aqsa Mosque and elsewhere in the Old City.
Tensions rose sharply over a looming Israeli Supreme Court decision on whether to uphold the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the strategically situated Sheikh Jarrah.
Hundreds of Palestinians have been injured in the clashes, with police using flash grenades, tear gas and sponge-tipped bullets, which they said were necessary to respond to people throwing stones at security forces. More than 20 Israeli police have been injured.
The compound where the mosque is located, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and as the Temple Mount to Jews, has become a focal point of Palestinian anger over what they see as years of efforts to push them out of Jerusalem and limit their access to land they claim, as well as infringing on their basic rights.
Israel’s military, has massed some 3,000 to 4,000 troops along the border with Gaza along with tanks and artillery as it intensifies its offensive against Gaza-based militant group Hamas.
Why are Israel and Gaza ruler Hamas fighting?
Hamas began firing rockets toward Israel on Monday evening after the militant group issued an ultimatum to Israeli police forces to leave the Al Aqsa mosque complex and other areas in the contested city or else face attacks.
The cross-border clashes are the worst since the 2014 Gaza war, with Hamas sending hundreds of rockets toward central Israel.
Some of the first rockets were aimed at Jerusalem, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said was a red line.
Since Monday evening, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have launched at least 1,750 rockets toward Israel, which has responded with aerial and artillery attacks that Palestinian medical services say have killed 119 people, including 31 children. Israel says it has killed dozens of operatives of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second-largest militant group.
Six Israelis, including one child, have died in rocket attacks, and one soldier was killed by an antitank missile.
What is Israel’s Iron Dome?
Israel’s land-based Iron Dome missile-defense system intercepts short-range rockets and has become a bedrock of the country’s defense since its introduction in 2011.
In the current round of hostilities, Israel’s military said the system has intercepted 90% of the 1,750 rockets fired toward Israel. The system selectively intercepts rockets that threaten civilians or strategic infrastructure.
How has the U.S. responded so far?
The Biden administration has urged both sides to de-escalate tensions, engaging in discussions with Israeli and Palestinian officials. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that he was dispatching Hady Amr, the senior State Department official with the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio, to Israel on Wednesday to try to encourage mediation efforts as the fighting intensifies.
President Biden said on May 12 that, “My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory.” He said that he had spoken to Mr. Netanyahu, and his “hope is that we’ll see this coming to a conclusion sooner than later.”