Richard Spurr 4am - 7am
Israel launches air strikes on Gaza targets following rocket attacks
11 May 2021, 09:37
Israel has launched a series of air strikes on Gaza targets after Hamas and other armed groups fired rockets as unrest escalated into a series of retaliatory attacks.
Since the cross-border fighting erupted on Monday evening, the Israeli military said they had hit 130 targets in Gaza but refused to be drawn on reports of innocent casualties.
Targets hit included the high-rise home of a Hamas field commander and two tunnels militants were digging under the border, among a number of civilian and commercial buildings.
Since the cross-border fighting erupted on Monday evening, 24 Palestinians - including nine children - have been killed in Gaza, most by air strikes, Gaza health officials said.
The Israeli military said 15 of the dead were militants.
One missile hit an apartment block in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of the city, killing two men and a woman inside, according to health officials.
Alarms sounded across Gaza as rockets continued to hit the territory well into the early hours of Tuesday morning, with emergency services and aid workers rushing to rescue those trapped inside destroyed buildings and sending the injured to hospital.
It comes amid flaring tensions across the West Bank and in the Old City of Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israeli police and security forces, with over 700 Palestinians hurt and almost 500 needing hospital treatment.
The current violence, like previous rounds, was fuelled by conflicting claims over Jerusalem, home to major holy sites of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The rival national and religious narratives of Israelis and Palestinians are rooted in the city, making it the emotional core of their long conflict.
Over the weekend, confrontations erupted at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, which was captured and annexed by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and is a particularly sensitive holy site.
For four successive days, Israel police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets worshippers and protesters in and around the compound, who hurled stones and chairs in return. Hundreds of Palestinians were injured, many requiring hospital treatment, as well as two dozen officers.
The fighting intensified on Monday as police allowed the Jerusalem Day march - widely perceived by Palestinians as a display of Jewish hegemony over the contested city - to go ahead.
By the evening, Hamas began firing rockets from Gaza, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem, after giving Israel a deadline to withdraw security forces from the compound.
Lt Col Conricus said about one-third of the rockets fired by militants fell short but one landed a direct hit on a seven-storey apartment block in the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon, injuring several.
Israeli paramedic service Magen David Adom said it treated six people injured in the rocket strike. Two were take to hospital.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Monday that fighting could "continue for some time" as opposed to the usual flare up that lasts only several days.
Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said on Tuesday that the Israeli military is in "the early stages" of strikes against Gaza targets which were planned well in advance.
The escalation comes at a time of political limbo in Israel, with Mr Netanyahu acting as a caretaker prime minister since an inconclusive parliament election in March.
He tried and failed to form a coalition government with his hardline and ultra-Orthodox allies, and control was handed to his sworn political rivals last week - one of them Israel's defence minister who is overseeing the Gaza campaign.
It is not clear if and to what extent the toxic political atmosphere is spilling over into military decision-making, though the rival camps have unanimously expressed support for striking Hamas.