By Joseph Federmann, Associated Press
On Saturday, the Israeli army said that three rockets were fired from Syria towards Israeli territory, in a rare attack from the country’s northeastern neighbour, which comes after days of escalating violence on multiple fronts.
No party claimed responsibility for the rocket fire, which did not result in damage or injuries. The Israeli military said that only one missile managed to cross into Israeli territory and landed in a field in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. The Jordanian military reported that shrapnel from another devastating missile fell on Jordanian territory near the Syrian border.
In Syria, an adviser to President Bashar al-Assad described the missile strikes as “part of the past, present and ongoing response to the brutal enemy”.
Palestinian health officials said Israeli security forces shot dead a 20-year-old Palestinian in the occupied West Bank, sparking protests in the area. The Israeli army said that the forces fired at Palestinians who had thrown stones and explosive devices. The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that the dead man was Ayed Salem.
His death came at a time of extraordinary escalation of violence in the West Bank. More than 90 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire so far this year, at least half of them affiliated with armed groups, according to a tally by the Associated Press.
Palestinian attacks on Israelis have killed 19 people at the time – including on Friday the shooting death of two British Israelis near a settlement in the Jordan Valley, and the killing of an Italian tourist in a suspected ramming incident in Tel Aviv. All but one are civilians.
The rocket fire from Syria comes against the backdrop of escalating tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians, after it was sparked by a raid by the Israeli police on the most sensitive site in Jerusalem, the Temple Mount that houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This angered the Palestinians, who are observing the fasting month of Ramadan, and prompted activists in Lebanon – as well as Palestinian activists in the Gaza Strip – to launch heavy barrages of rockets at Israel.
In response, Israeli warplanes bombed sites allegedly linked to the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in Gaza and southern Lebanon.
Late Saturday, tensions rose in Jerusalem as a few hundred Palestinian worshipers barricaded themselves in the mosque, which sits atop a hill in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City holy to both Muslims and Jews. Efforts by Israeli police to evacuate worshipers held at the mosque at night with firecrackers and piled stones escalated into unrest at the holy site earlier this week.
The recent escalation prompted Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to extend a closure that prevents Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip from entering Israel throughout the Passover holiday, while police reinforced their forces in Jerusalem on the eve of sensitive religious events. festivities.
In a separate incident in the northern West Bank city of Nablus late Saturday, the leader of an independent local armed group known as the Lion’s Den claimed the group executed an alleged Israeli collaborator who had reported the IDF’s positions and movements to the IDF. Members of the group. Israeli security forces have targeted and killed several key members of the group in recent months.
It was not immediately possible to confirm the death of the accused, but videos in the Palestinian media showed medics and residents gathering around his bloodstained body in the Old City, where the lion’s den holds sway. “Traitors have neither a country nor a people,” Uday Azizi, commander of the lion’s den, said in a statement.
The moves come at a time of heightened religious fervor – with Ramadan coinciding with Easter and Passover. The Old City of Jerusalem, home to major Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, is bustling with visitors and religious pilgrims from all over the world.
Gallant said the lockdown imposed last Wednesday, on the eve of Easter Sunday, will remain in effect until the holiday ends on Wednesday evening. The order bars Palestinians from entering Israel to work or to pray in Jerusalem this week, although communal prayers are allowed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday. Gallant also ordered the Israeli army to prepare to assist the Israeli police. The army later announced that it would deploy additional forces around Jerusalem and the West Bank.
More than 2,000 police are expected to be deployed to Jerusalem on Sunday – when tens of thousands of Jews are expected to congregate at the Western Wall for a special priestly blessing for Passover. The Western Wall is the holiest site at which Jews can pray and sits next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, where large crowds gather every day for prayers during Ramadan.
Jerusalem Police Chief Doron Turgeman met with his commanders on Saturday for a security assessment. He accused the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), which rules the Gaza Strip, of trying to incite violence before the priesthood blessing on Sunday, with false claims that Jews had planned to storm the mosque.
“We will allow freedom of worship and we will allow access for Muslims to pray,” he said, adding that police will “act with firmness and sensitivity” to ensure all faiths celebrate safely.
The current round of violence erupted earlier in the week after the Israeli police raided the mosque and fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of Palestinians holed up inside the mosque. Violent scenes from the raid sparked unrest in the disputed capital and anger across the Arab world.