Photo: Bicom

Tensions have increased between Israel and the Palestinians after an escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and in Jerusalem over the weekend.

Israel Defence Forces carried out airstrikes following a barrage of some 40 rockets by militants across southern Israel overnight on Friday. The IDF struck multiple Hamas targets including rocket launchers, underground infrastructure and a military base in retaliation.

Six missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The IDF have reinforced the defense system across southern Israel although calm has been restored following diplomatic measures.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an emergency security meeting at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv following the rocket attacks at border communities.

Netanyahu met with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai

“I have ordered preparations for any scenario,” he reportedly said.

“In assessing the situation, the chief of staff ordered a series of possible steps, responses and assessments for escalation,” the IDF reportedly added in a statement.

Rocket sirens saw residents rush to bomb shelters in, Eshkol, Sha’ar Hanegev, Sdot Negev and Hof Ashkelon regional councils.

Sirens also alerted residents in Ashkelon on Saturday morning. A missile was also launched from Gaza at Sderot yesterday. Two people were treated at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.

IDF forces did not respond to this latter attack and schools reopened on Sunday.

“We are prepared to greet the children with empathy and patience to allow them to vent their frustrations and worries and provide them with tools to deal with both,” Education ministry officials reportedly said.

A small band of militants linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the missile attacks.

Hamas said missiles were fired in response to clashes in Jerusalem.

Ofir Libstein, Shaar HaNegev Regional Council, following the rocket fire, reportedly said, “The rocket fire during the night reminds us that the peace is temporary and fragile. This morning we located a strike within the grounds of (a) kibbutz and miraculously there were no casualties.”

Gadi Yarkoni, Eshkol Regional Council, reportedly added, “As far as we know, the attacks took place in response to the events in Jerusalem. The unbearable ease with which the Gaza organisations permit themselves to fire at adjacent Israeli localities to try to harm civilians is outrageous.”

Meantime, police were forced to use stunt grenades to disband hundreds of Palestinians rioting in the West Bank and Old City of Jerusalem on Saturday.

Rioters, who also clashed with Israeli police clashed overnight on Thursday and Friday, hurled fire-bombs at officers and throwing stones at Israeli vehicles and homes.

The violence over recent days in Jerusalem saw Israelis attacked on the streets, a bus driver on a route from Bnei Brak to Jerusalem injured when his windshield was shattered.

Clashes continued after Shabbat near neighbourhoods close to Hadassah Har HaTzofim Hospital.

“Hundreds of policemen and Border Police officers deployed in east and central Jerusalem, and worked resolutely to maintain order, identify rioters and arrest those who harm public safety and endanger security forces,” Israel Police reportedly stated, adding that four policemen were injured and treated at the scene.

Rioters destroyed some 50 security surveillance cameras belonging to Israel Police and the Jerusalem Municipality. Among incidents, a Charedi couple on Friday night in the French Hill neighbourhood were attacked. The husband was reportedly kicked and punched. A woman walking her dog was also kicked according to reports.

Israeli officials through diplomatic channels tried to halt the violence with Hamas by allowing freedom of worship through Ramadan. Hamas appeared to back the discussions facilitated by Jordan, Egypt and UN Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland.

Due to the escalation in violence, Kochavi has cancelled a diplomatic trip to the U.S. scheduled for this week to discuss the Iran nuclear deal to prepare for a possible escalation in violence.

Nuclear talks are ongoing in Vienna. US and Israeli officials have held two rounds of virtual strategic talks since the explosion at the Natanz nuclear site earlier this month