What happened: Last night another five rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as rioting also continued in Jerusalem.
- In the south, the Iron Dome anti-missile defence system intercepted two rockets as the others fell either in uninhabited areas or inside the Gaza Strip.
- In Sderot, four people sustained light injuries when they ran to shelter, including a heavily pregnant woman.
- In response to the rocket fire, Israel decided to close the fishing zone around the Gaza Strip until further notice.
- In East Jerusalem rioting continued last night. Hundreds of people demonstrated at Damascus Gate and at other points in the city. Seventeen people were arrested for public disturbances, attacking police officers, throwing stones and firebombs and other violent activity. The police also arrested three people for allegedly assaulting undercover police detectives near Jaffa Gate who were disguised as ultra-Orthodox.
- In an effort to end the protests, last night the police removed the barricades outside Damascus Gate, which have been a focal point of clashes in the last week. The move was celebrated by hundreds of young Palestinian men who chanted: “With blood and fire we will redeem Palestine.”
Context: Since Friday night there has been a total of 45 rockets from Gaza Strip towards Israel. So far, all the rockets have been aimed at Israeli communities in close proximity to the Strip and no serious injuries have been reported.
- Israeli analysts suggest that Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is most likely responsible for the rocket fire, however, the security establishment continues to hold Hamas responsible for all activity as they are the controlling authority in the Gaza Strip.
- There are various factors that could explain this latest wave of violence in Jerusalem:
- Ramadan is always a more sensitive period when tension around issues regarding the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif are heightened. Relating to the riots in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “We guarantee religious freedom like we do every year, for all residents and for all visitors to Jerusalem. Right now, we demand that the law be followed; I call on all sides to display calm.”
- There has been a recent phenomenon of “tik tok attacks” where young Arabs have filmed attacks on ultra-Orthodox Jews and posted clips on social media. Again, yesterday a video was posted of a young Arab man slapping an elderly ultra-Orthodox couple in the Old City of Jerusalem.
- In response to these videos the extremist Jewish group Lehava was allowed to organise a march last week that further exacerbated tension. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon said yesterday that he had tried to prevent them from marching to Damascus Gate, “but the police said it was legal and there were no grounds to prevent it. But it really was an unnecessary demonstration”.
- In the background is the lead up to the Palestinian elections. The parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 22 but could still be cancelled. Egypt, Jordan, the US and Israel have all advised Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Abbas to call them off. Israel has not yet responded to the Palestinian request to allow voting to take place in East Jerusalem.
- According to a police statement, “The police commissioner ordered to remove the barricades at Damascus Gate and to see from up close whether there is any change in the Muslims’ behaviour on the site … the police commissioner’s decision was made following consultations and in response to requests from shop-owners in the market, who said that the clashes had been caused by the decision to install the barricades. The police commissioner also received requests from the local Arab leadership and from the Jerusalem municipality.”
- As a result of the violence, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi cancelled his plans to travel to the US to discuss the Iranian nuclear agreement. Last night IDF Intelligence Director Maj. Gen. Tamir Heiman and IDF Strategy and Third-Circle Director Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman left for the US where they will hold meetings with senior US military officials.
Looking ahead: The security establishment remains on high alert ahead of various possible scenarios. IDF officials said that now is a particularly sensitive time and it would be better to maintain restraint and try to prevent the situation from escalating.
- As in the past, it is expected the Egypt will send a security delegation to visit leaders in both Gaza and Israel to mediate and bring the situation under control.
- In the next two days PA Chairman Abbas is expected to convene a meeting with all the Palestinian factions, including Hamas and PIJ, and could announce the postponement of the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 22.