Terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired rockets at several towns in southern Israel early Wednesday morning, following clashes between police and Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Hours later, an Israeli soldier was wounded in a suspected shooting near the West Bank city of Hebron, amid heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions during Ramadan and the start of Passover.
The launches set off alert systems in Sderot and a number of nearby communities. Around 20 minutes later, further warning sirens sounded at a kibbutz in the area.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, five projectiles were launched in the initial salvo, four of which were intercepted by air defense systems. The military said four more rockets were fired shortly after, all of which fell in open areas.
The Sderot Municipality said one of the rockets struck a factory in the industrial area, causing damage. There were no reports of injuries.
In response, Palestinian media reported Wednesday morning that Israeli forces struck targets in Gaza, after which sirens were again triggered in a number of southern communities. There was no immediate confirmation of the strikes from the IDF.
הפלסטינים מדווחים – שוטרים עם אלות מכים מתפללים ללא אבחנה באלות ובנשק, אחרי שנכנסו למסגד. pic.twitter.com/QZooMwaXsk
— Deiaa haj yahia-ضياء حاج يحيى (@DeiaaHaj) April 4, 2023
Prior to the sirens, the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group denounced the police’s actions at the flashpoint Jerusalem holy site as “an unprecedented crime” and urged Palestinians “to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it.” Video footage from inside the mosque showed violent clashes between Palestinians and police.
ועכשיו התיעוד של המשטרה ממסגד אל-אקצא pic.twitter.com/4kVeqXYcQa
— חיים גולדברג (@haim_goldberg) April 4, 2023
Gazans started gathering in the streets, with calls to head for the heavily guarded Gaza-Israel frontier for more violent demonstrations.
Islamic Jihad, another Gaza-based terrorist organization, similarly called for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israel to go and gather around the mosque and confront Israeli forces.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman warned Israel against “crossing red lines” at holy sites, saying this could trigger a “big explosion.”
“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,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in a statement carried by the Ramallah-based PA’s official Wafa news agency.
Jordan, which controls the body that administers the Temple Mount, also denounced Israel, accusing police of “storming” Al-Aqsa and assaulting worshippers. Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry issued a condemnation that used nearly identical language.
“The foreign ministry calls on Israel to immediately withdraw its police and special forces from the compound,” the Jordanian statement said.
According to police, dozens of masked youths barricaded themselves inside the mosque atop the Temple Mount with fireworks, clubs and rocks following evening prayers, while locking the doors and placing barricades at the entrances.
The force said in a statement that officers tried to convince those inside to leave but were ultimately forced to enter the mosque, where they were attacked with rocks and fireworks.
Police added that dozens of suspects were arrested and that “the rioters caused damage to the mosque and desecrated it.”
During the clashes, an officer was struck in the leg by a rock, according to police, who did not provide any details on his condition. Palestinian reports said dozens were wounded, many of them apparently from smoke inhalation.
“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 police statement said.
The violence at the mosque came after officers shot and wounded a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in the nearby Silwan neighborhood late Tuesday. Police said the teenager was among a group of suspects who threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at a security vehicle, with officers opening fire after they tried to open one of the car’s doors.
The suspect was in stable condition and taken to the hospital for treatment, according to police.
In the shooting near Hebron, the military said the soldier was taken to a hospital in Jerusalem after being struck by gunfire during clashes between troops and Palestinians in the village of Beit Ummar. No word was given on his condition.
The IDF said troops were searching the area for suspects.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began last week and will end April 21, often sees elevated Israeli-Palestinian tensions, with frictions already high this year in Jerusalem and across the West Bank following months of deadly violence.
Palestinian terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank in recent months have left 15 Israelis dead and several more seriously hurt.
At least 86 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.
There has also been a rise in settler violence toward Palestinians in recent months.
Agencies contributed to this report.