The death toll from the ongoing Israeli airstrikes on the blockaded Gaza Strip has risen to 65, including 16 children, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Wednesday amid an escalation sparked by violent unrest at Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. A ministry statement said that three women were among the victims in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, while 365 people were injured.
Hamas confirmed Wednesday that several of its top commanders were killed in Israeli strikes, including its military chief in Gaza City, Bassem Issa. Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet, also identified four other top Hamas figures who it said were killed.
Two Israeli women were also killed by rockets fired from Gaza in response to recent Israeli aggression in the heavily targeted coastal city of Ashkelon, just north of Gaza, said the emergency service Magen David Adom. The local Barzilai medical center said it was treating 70 injured.
Hamas' Qassem Brigades had vowed to turn the town "to hell" and rained down an intense volley, claiming to have fired 137 rockets towards Ashkelon and nearby Ashdod within just five minutes. Loud booms again rocked the town on Tuesday, where a rocket had ripped a gaping hole into the side of an apartment block, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) reporter said.
Over 90% of recent rockets from Gaza were reported intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, Israeli army spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said earlier.
Israel fighter jets and attack helicopters have carried out more than 130 strikes on military targets in the enclave, said Conricus. Israeli officials said they have killed 15 Hamas commanders, while the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad confirmed two of its senior figures were also killed.
Tensions in Jerusalem have flared into the city's worst disturbances since 2017 in the days since Israeli riot police clashed with large crowds of Palestinians on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.
Nightly unrest since then at the Al-Aqsa compound in occupied East Jerusalem has left more than 700 Palestinians wounded, drawing international calls for de-escalation and sharp rebukes from across the Muslim world.
Hamas had Monday warned Israel to withdraw all its forces from the mosque compound and the East Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah, where the looming forced expulsion of Palestinian families has fuelled angry protests.
Sirens wailed across Jerusalem just after the 3 p.m. GMT deadline set by Hamas as people in the city, including lawmakers in the Knesset legislature, fled to bunkers for the first time since the 2014 Gaza conflict.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas had "crossed a red line" by targeting Jerusalem and vowed that the Jewish state would "respond with force."
Hamas' Qassam Brigades said, "this is a message that the enemy must understand well: if you respond we will respond, and if you escalate we will escalate."
Several properties in Israel have been damaged by rockets, including an apartment in the southern city of Ashkelon, and a house in Beit Nekofa, west of central Jerusalem.
An Israeli Arab died from gunshot wounds in clashes with Israeli Jews in the central city of Lod, police said Monday, without providing details.
In Monday evening's Jerusalem clashes – as during the previous nights since Friday – Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli officers in riot gear who fired rubber-coated bullets, stun grenades and tear gas.
"They shot everyone, young and old people," claimed Palestinian man Siraj, 24, about Israeli security forces in an earlier confrontation in which he suffered a spleen injury from a rubber bullet.
Human rights group Amnesty International accused Israel of using "abusive and wanton force against largely peaceful Palestinian protesters," describing some of the measures as "disproportionate and unlawful."
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