Israeli airstrikes target Gaza sites, first since May 21 ceasefire

Published June 16, 2021
Explosions light-up the night sky above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on June 16. — AFP
Explosions light-up the night sky above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on June 16. — AFP
Explosions light-up the night sky above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on June 16. — AFP
Explosions light-up the night sky above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on June 16. — AFP

Israeli aircraft carried out a series of airstrikes at sites in the Gaza Strip early on Wednesday, the first such raids since a shaky ceasefire ended 11 days of violence last month.

The airstrikes targeted facilities used by Hamas fighters for meetings to plan attacks, the Israeli military said, blaming the group for any act of violence emanating from Gaza. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Israeli ultranationalists, some chanting “Death to Arabs,” paraded in east Jerusalem in a show of force that threatened to spark renewed violence. Palestinians in Gaza responded by launching incendiary balloons that caused at least 10 fires in southern Israel.

The march posed a test for Israel’s fragile new government as well as the tenuous truce that ended last month’s violence between Israel and Hamas.

Palestinians consider the march, meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in 1967, to be a provocation. Hamas called on Palestinians to “resist” the parade.

With music blaring, hundreds of Jewish nationalists gathered and moved in front of Damascus Gate. Most appeared to be young men, and many held blue and white Israeli flags as they danced and sang religious songs.

At one point, several dozen youths, jumping and waving their hands in the air, chanted: “Death to Arabs!” In another anti-Arab chant, they yelled: “May your village burn.”

In a scathing condemnation on Twitter, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said those shouting racist slogans were “a disgrace to the Israeli people,” adding: “The fact that there are radicals for whom the Israeli flag represents hatred and racism is abominable and unforgivable.”

The crowd, while boisterous, appeared to be much smaller than during last month’s parade. From the Damascus Gate, they proceeded around the Old City to the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray.

Ahead of the march, Israeli police cleared the area in front of Damascus Gate, shut down roads to traffic, ordered shops to close and sent away young Palestinian protesters.

Police said that officers arrested 17 people suspected of involvement in violence, some of whom threw rocks and attacked police, and that two police officers needed medical treatment. Palestinians said five people were hurt in clashes with police.

The parade provided an early challenge for Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, a hardline Israeli nationalist who has promised a pragmatic approach as he presides over a delicate, diverse coalition government.

Explainer: Who is Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new PM?

Though there were concerns the march would raise tensions, canceling it would have opened Bennett and other right-wing members of the coalition to intense criticism from those who would view it as a capitulation to Hamas.

The coalition was sworn in Sunday and includes parties from across the political spectrum, including a small Arab party.

Mansour Abbas, whose Raam party is the first Arab faction to join an Israeli coalition, said the march was “an attempt to set the region on fire for political aims”, with the intention of undermining the new government.

Abbas said the police and public security minister should have canceled the event. “I call on all sides not to be dragged into an escalation and maintain maximum restraint,” he said.

In past years, the march passed through Damascus Gate and into the heart of the Muslim Quarter, a crowded Palestinian neighbourhood with narrow streets and alleys. But police changed the route on Tuesday to avoid the Muslim Quarter.

Instead, the route went around the ancient walls of the Old City and through Jaffa Gate, a main thoroughfare for tourists, and towards the Jewish Quarter and Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

Damascus Gate is a focal point of Palestinian life in east Jerusalem. Violence erupted in April and May during Ramazan as Palestinians were attacked by Israeli police over restrictions on public gatherings.

That violence spread to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound when Israeli police raided the mosque, a flashpoint site sacred to Jews and Muslims. Tensions at the time were further fueled by protests over the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers, also in Jerusalem.

At the height of the tensions, on May 10, Israeli ultranationalists held their annual flag parade. While it was diverted from the Damascus Gate at the last minute, it was seen by Palestinians as an unwelcome celebration of Israeli control over what they view as their capital.

In the name of defending the holy city, Hamas fired long range rockets at Jerusalem, disrupting the march and sparking the 11-day violence, which claimed more than 250 Palestinian lives and killed 13 people in Israel.

Hamas had called on Palestinians to show “valiant resistance” to the march. It urged people to gather in the Old City and at the Al Aqsa Mosque to “rise up in the face of the occupier and resist it by all means to stop its crimes and arrogance”.

In the afternoon, Hamas-linked Palestinians launched some incendiary balloons from Gaza, setting off at least 10 blazes in southern Israel, according to Israel’s national fire department.

Abu Malek, one of the young men launching the balloons, called the move “an initial response” to the march.

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, of the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, called the march an “aggression against our people”.

In neighbouring Jordan, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the march as “unacceptable”, saying it undermined efforts to reduce friction between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli media reported the military was on heightened alert in the occupied West Bank and along the Gaza frontier. Batteries of Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defence system were seen deployed near the southern town of Netivot, near the Gaza border, as a precaution.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz met with the military chief of staff, the police commissioner and other senior security officials. He “underscored the need to avoid friction and protect the personal safety of [...] Jews and Arabs alike,” his office said.

Opinion

Coping with Covid perils
01 Aug 2021

Coping with Covid perils

Little accountability in countries such as India and Pakistan has meant whimsical decision-making.
A missing placard
Updated 01 Aug 2021

A missing placard

Scrutiny, protests, and swift police action are no guarantees of justice.
Urban flood risk
01 Aug 2021

Urban flood risk

Flood risk has been exacerbated by unchecked encroachments.
No woman’s land
Updated 31 Jul 2021

No woman’s land

We don’t just have violent men. We have a violent system.

Editorial

Necessary lockdown
Updated 01 Aug 2021

Necessary lockdown

AS the countrywide positivity ratio of Covid-19 infections crossed 8pc, Sindh imposed a nine-day lockdown effective...
01 Aug 2021

No Olympic glory

FOR about 30 minutes at the Tokyo Olympics weightlifting competition last week, Talha Talib remained in the podium...
01 Aug 2021

Preventable E-11 flooding

THE flooding on Wednesday in Islamabad’s E-11/2 sector is deserving of the shock it has spawned. The flouting of...
China-Taliban meeting
Updated 31 Jul 2021

China-Taliban meeting

WITH the government in Kabul appearing to stand on very fragile foundations, and as the clock ticks down to the ...
31 Jul 2021

Outages in Makran

IT is no surprise that people in Balochistan’s Makran Division have of late taken to the streets to protest in the...
31 Jul 2021

Reduction in polio cases

AFTER the long and tedious efforts of those running the national polio programme, there are signs that Pakistan ...