Israel said Saturday that it would close its crossing to thousands of Gaza workers after a series of rockets were fired from the territory ruled by the militant Hamas group in recent days.
The rocket fire came amid near-daily clashes at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site over the past week, with Palestinians hurling stones and fireworks and Israeli police entering the compound and firing rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades.
The violence in Jerusalem, and a string of deadly attacks inside Israel and raids across the occupied West Bank, have raised fears of another war between Israel and Hamas like the one that broke out under similar circumstances last year.
Israel said Palestinian militants fired two rockets late Friday, with one landing in an open area inside Israel and the other falling inside Gaza. Palestinian media reported that two Gaza residents were wounded by the rocket that fell short. There was no immediate comment from health officials.
Another rocket was fired from Gaza early Saturday, but the military did not say where it landed. There were no reports of casualties or damage.
The rocket fire comes as tensions mount surrounding the Temple Mount as dozens of Palestinians have been injured and hundreds arrested following violent clashes with Israel Police.
On Friday morning following prayers on the holy site, rioters began throwing stones toward security forces who used a police drone to fire stun grenades as a riot control measure in response.
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, a total of 57 Palestinians were injured including one man who was seriously injured and evacuated to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center.
While Palestinians say he was hit in the neck by sponge bullets by police, police said he fell over after throwing rocks toward police. The hospital said that there was “no evidence” that the injury was from live ammunition.
Israeli officials believe that while Hamas is not interested in any conflict, their major concern is that the violence in Jerusalem might spiral and lead to other terror groups in the Strip launching rockets into Israel-therefore dragging the country into yet another war.
Last year violence on the Temple Mount coupled with the cancellation of Palestinian elections led to Hamas firing seven rockets toward Jerusalem leading to 11 days of deadly conflict called Operation Guardian of the Walls by the IDF and Sword of Jerusalem (Saif al-Quds) by Hamas.
Meanwhile, for the second week in a row, thousands of Palestinians participated in a mass rally called by the Hamas movement to show solidarity in the face of continued Israeli raids in occupied Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
At the demonstration in Jabalia refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, protesters held banners declaring Palestinian dominion over the Al-Aqsa Mosque and chanted slogans deploring Israeli attacks against worshippers there.
In recent months, Israel had issued thousands of work permits to Palestinians from Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces nearly 15 years ago.
Israel portrayed the move as a goodwill gesture in order to maintain calm, but the permits — which can be revoked at any time — also give it a strong form of leverage over Palestinians. Israel grants permits to some 12,000 Palestinians in Gaza and over 100,000 to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, mostly for work in construction and other menial jobs.
Israel captured east Jerusalem — which includes major holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims — along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want all three territories to form their future state.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally, and has built Jewish settlements across the occupied West Bank that now house nearly 500,000 settlers alongside nearly 3 million Palestinians. There have been no substantive peace talks in more than a decade.
The violence in Jerusalem has been centered on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Jews consider the hilltop on which it is built to be their holiest site, and refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of two Jewish temples in antiquity.
The site lies at the emotional heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and clashes there have often ignited violence elsewhere.
(with inputs from AP)