Al-Aqsa mosque: Hamas fires rockets at Jerusalem as nine Palestinians including three children die in explosion

This video contains distressing images
  • Video report by ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine

Hamas militants fired a large barrage of rockets into Israel on Monday after hundreds of Palestinians were hurt in clashes with Israeli police at a flashpoint religious site in the contested holy city.

The early evening attack drastically escalated what already are heightened tensions throughout the region following weeks of confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem.

The Israeli army said there was an initial burst of seven rockets, one was intercepted, and rocket fire was continuing in southern Israel.

Gaza health officials said nine people, including three children, were killed in an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known.

The Israeli army said an Israeli civilian in the country’s south suffered mild injuries when a vehicle was struck by an anti-tank missile from Gaza.

Meanwhile, Hamas media reported that an Israeli drone strike killed a Palestinian, also in the northern Gaza Strip.

The rare strike on Jerusalem came moments after Hamas had set a deadline for Israel to remove its forces from the mosque compound and the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and release Palestinians detained in the latest clashes.

Palestinians evacuate a wounded protester during clashes with Israeli security forces at the Lions Gate in Jerusalem's Old City.

The Hamas group said it launched the rockets following days of violence around the holy site of the Al-Aqsa mosque complex.

The rockets set off air raid sirens and shortly afterwards explosions could be heard in Jerusalem.

One rocket fell on the western outskirts of the city, lightly damaging a home and causing a bushfire.

Abu Obeida, spokesperson for Hamas’ military wing, said the attack was a response to what he called Israeli "crimes and aggression" in Jerusalem.

"This is a message the enemy has to understand well," he said.

He threatened more attacks if Israel again "invaded" the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque compound or carried out planned evictions of Palestinian families from a neighbourhood of east Jerusalem that have raised tensions.

Hundreds of people have been hurt in clashes at the mosque complex in Jerusalem amid rising tensions in the area.

Earlier, Israeli police firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians at the iconic compound, which is Islam’s third-holiest site and considered Judaism’s holiest.

More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as police and protesters faced off inside the walled compound that surrounds it, said an Associated Press photographer at the scene.

Smoke rose in front of the mosque as more than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the Al-Aqsa holy site

Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the iconic golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the nearby plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.

More than 305 Palestinians were hurt, including 228 who went to hospitals and clinics for treatment, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Seven of the injured were in serious condition.

Police said 21 officers were hurt, including three who were hospitalised. Israeli paramedics said seven Israeli civilians were also hurt.

In an apparent attempt to avoid further confrontation, Israeli authorities changed the planned route of a march by ultra-nationalist Jews through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City to mark Jerusalem Day, which celebrates Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem.

Tensions at the site have been the trigger for prolonged bouts of violence in the past, including the last Palestinian intifada, or uprising. It was not clear if the current unrest would escalate or dissipate in the coming days.

Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound Credit: Mahmoud Illean/AP

The renewed disturbances follow the most violent weekend in this city for years. ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine, who is on the ground in the area, said the violence is the result of a series of issues reaching boiling point.

They include Jerusalem Day, the annual celebration of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem during 1967’s Six Day War, and an ongoing fight over the potential eviction of Palestinians from an East Jerusalem neighbourhood.

The site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is also considered the holiest site in Judaism.

Al-Aqsa mosque has been busier than usual because the holy month of Ramadan is coming to an end. The last 10 nights of Ramadan, called 'Lailatul Qadr', comprise the holiest period of the year for Muslims. As a result, masses attend mosques to pray overnight.

As well as the violence inside the mosque compound, police said protesters hurled stones at officers and onto an adjoining roadway near the Western Wall, where thousands of Israeli Jews had gathered to pray.

Smoke billows out of the mosque, as worshippers appear to barricade themselves inside with Israeli police approaching

Israel has come under growing international criticism for its heavy-handed actions at the site, particularly during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Ofir Gendelman, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claimed in a tweet that "extremist Palestinians planned well in advance to carry out riots" at the holy site. He said that Israel guarantees freedom of worship, but "not the freedom to riot and attack innocent people".

In another violent incident, Palestinian protesters hurled rocks at an Israeli vehicle driving just outside the Old City walls. The driver appeared to lose control and slammed into bystanders.

Police said in a statement that two passengers were injured.

Israeli police footage of a car colliding with bystanders after being pelted with stones

This video contains distressing images

The UN Security Council scheduled closed consultations on Monday on the soaring tensions in Jerusalem. Diplomats said the meeting was requested by Tunisia, the Arab representative on the council.

Late on Sunday, the US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and urged calm.

A White House statement said that Mr Sullivan called on Israel to "pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm" and expressed the US's "serious concerns" about the ongoing violence and planned evictions.

The tensions in Jerusalem have threatened to reverberate throughout the region.

Prime Minister Netanyahu pushed back against the criticism on Monday, saying Israel is determined to ensure the rights of worship for all and that this “requires from time to time stand up and stand strong as Israeli police and our security forces are doing now".

Israeli security forces in front of the Dome of the Rock Mosque at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City Credit: Mahmoud Illean/AP

In response to the rockets fired by Hamas, COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry organ responsible for crossings with the Gaza Strip, announced on Monday that it was closing the Erez crossing to all but humanitarian and exceptional cases until further notice.

"This measure follows the decision to close the fishing zone yesterday, and following rocket fire and the continued launching of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip toward the State of Israel, which constitute a violation of the Israeli sovereignty," COGAT said in a statement.