Jerusalem tension triggers Gaza-Israel fire exchange

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Israeli Border Police patrol the Old City of Jerusalem as worshippers arrive for Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, on Friday, April 23, 2021. Israeli police say 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

JERUSALEM – Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip toward Israel resumed Saturday evening after a day-long pause despite calls for calm from the United Nations and threats by Israeli leaders to retaliate fiercely. Tensions in Jerusalem as Palestinians clashed with Israeli police and far-right Jewish groups prompted the heaviest cross-border violence in months between Israel and Gaza.

Militants fired a rocket toward Sderot town in southern Israel and it was intercepted by air defenses, the military said.

Early Saturday, militants in the Gaza Strip fired some three dozen rockets into Israel, while the Israeli military struck back at targets operated by the ruling Hamas group.

The barrage of rocket fire came as hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli police in east Jerusalem. The clashes, in which at least four police and six protesters were injured, have become a nightly occurrence throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and show no signs of stopping.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he held talks with top security officials about Gaza and Jerusalem. He said he instructed officials to be ready for ‘every scenario’ in Gaza. In Jerusalem, he said Israel would guarantee ‘freedom of worship’ for everyone, and he appealed for calm. “We ask now for people to obey the law and I call for a calming of tempers on all sides.”

The U.N. envoy to the region, Tor Wennesland, condemned the violence and said the United Nations was working with all sides to restore calm.

“The provocative acts across Jerusalem must cease. The indiscriminate launching of rockets towards Israeli population centers violates international law and must stop immediately,” he said. “I reiterate my call upon all sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further escalation, particularly during the Holy month of Ramadan and this politically charged time for all.”

Meanwhile, Israeli chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, is weighing “a series of steps for possible responses,” and preparations if the situation continued to escalate, the military said in a statement. He also postponed a trip to the United States that was scheduled for Sunday.