JERUSALEM: Israel carried out its first airstrike in the Gaza Strip in months early Tuesday in response to a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave as tensions rise after a weekend of violence around a site Holy of Jerusalem.
Warning sirens sounded in southern Israel on Monday night after the rocket was fired from the Hamas-controlled enclave, the first such incident since early January.
The projectile crashed into the sea off Tel Aviv.
“A rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory. The rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome Air Defense System,” the Israeli military said in a statement.
Hours later, the Israeli air force said it had struck a Hamas weapons manufacturing site in retaliation.
Hamas claimed to have used its “air defense” to counter air strikes, which caused no casualties, according to witnesses and security sources in Gaza.
No faction in the crowded enclave of 2.3 million people immediately claimed responsibility for the rocket, but it comes after a series of attacks in Israel and a weekend of tensions at a Jerusalem holy site.
Israel holds Hamas responsible for all rocket fire from Israel and regularly carries out airstrikes in response.
The incident, the first of its kind since January, comes after a weekend of Israeli-Palestinian violence in and around Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound that injured more than 170 people, mostly Palestinian protesters. .
Diplomatic sources said the United Nations Security Council was to hold a session on Tuesday to discuss the escalating violence.
Similar violence in Jerusalem around the same time last year triggered repeated rocket fire by Hamas into Israel, escalating into an 11-day war.
– ‘Illegitimate and provocative’ –
The rise in tensions coincides with both the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Palestinians have been angered by repeated visits to the site by Jewish worshipers, who are allowed to enter but cannot pray there.
Naftali Bennett’s government has repeatedly stated that Israeli security forces have a “free hand” in dealing with protesters.
Hamas had warned on Sunday that “Al-Aqsa is ours and ours alone” and vowed to uphold the right of Palestinians to pray there.
The exchanges of fire in Gaza and the Al-Aqsa clashes came after a surge in violence, including four deadly attacks since late March in the Jewish state by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs that claimed 14 lives, in their majority civilians.
Meanwhile, a total of 23 Palestinians have been killed in the violence since March 22, including assailants who targeted Israelis, according to an AFP tally.
They include Hanan Khudur, an 18-year-old Palestinian woman who died on Monday after she was shot by Israeli forces last week in the village of Faquaa, near the city of Jenin.
Israel has sent additional forces to the occupied West Bank and has been reinforcing its barrier in the territory.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that the United States was “deeply concerned” about the tensions and that senior US officials had been in contact by phone with their counterparts in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Arab nations.
“We have urged all parties to preserve the historical status quo” in the Al-Aqsa compound and avoid “provocative” steps, he said.
Jordan summoned the Israeli chargé d’affaires on Monday “to deliver a message of protest against the illegitimate and provocative Israeli violations in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque,” its Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Jordan serves as custodian of the holy sites in east Jerusalem, including the Old City, which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed in a move not recognized by most of the international community.
Bennett on Monday denounced what he called a “Hamas-led campaign of incitement” and said Israel was doing “everything” to ensure that people of all faiths could worship safely in Jerusalem.
“We hope that everyone does not join in the lies and certainly does not encourage violence against Jews,” he said, in an apparent reference to Jordan.
Bennett is also facing a political crisis at home after his ideologically disparate coalition lost its one-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel’s parliament, just under a year since he painstakingly put together a government.
On Sunday, Raam, the first Arab-Israeli party to be part of an Israeli government, said it was “suspending” its membership over the violence in Jerusalem.