JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli warplanes and artillery hit targets in Syria following rare rocket fire from the northern neighbor, as Jewish-Muslim tensions reached a peak Sunday in a volatile Jerusalem shrine with simultaneous religious rituals.
Thousands of Jewish worshipers gathered at the western wall of the city, the holiest place where Jews can pray, for the priestly blessing prayer service for the Passover holiday. At the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a fortified plateau above the Western Wall, hundreds of Palestinians performed prayers as part of the observances during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Hundreds of Jews also visited Al-Aqsa compound during heavy Sunday vigils to protest their presence by whistling and chanting Palestinian religious songs. At sunset, the observations were made without serious incident.
Such pilgrimages by religious and national Jews have grown in size and frequency over the years, and are viewed with suspicion by many Palestinians, who fear that Israel may one day plan to seize the site or partition it. Israeli officials say they have no intention of changing long-standing regulations that allow Jews to visit, but they do not pray that Muslims will be administered the site.
But now it is governed by the most right-wing government in its history, with ultra-nationalists who seek changes in the arrangements in senior positions.
Tensions had soared in the past week to a fan flashpoint after the Israeli police will fight in the mosque. On several occasions, Palestinians surrounded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque with stones and firecrackers, the right to pray overnight, which Israel in the past only allowed during the last 10 days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The police removed them by force, detaining hundreds and leaving dozens injured.
The violence at the shrine was triggered by rocket fire from Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon starting Wednesday, and Israeli snipers targeted both areas.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah media reported that the leader of the militant group, Hassan Nasrallah, received a delegation requested by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Sunday. The two “biggest developments in occupied Palestine, discussed the course of events in the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the escalating resistance in the West Bank and Gaza, in addition to the general political developments in the region, the readiness of the axis of resistance and the cooperation of its parties.
Haniyeh, who arrived in Lebanon last week, was flown to Israel from southern Lebanon shortly before they were scheduled to appear publicly in Beirut on Friday. But it was canceled due to security reasons following the exchange of strikes between Lebanon and Israel. No group has officially claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks, but Israel has accused Hamas of being behind them.
Late on Saturday and the first of Sunday, the militants in Syria were fired on in two salvos towards Israel and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. A Damascus-based Palestinian group loyal to the Syrian government claimed responsibility for the first round of raids, saying it was to blame for the Al-Aqsa raids.
In the first salvo, one rocket landed on the Golan Heights. Fragments of another missile fell into Jordanian territory near the Syrian border, the Jordanian military reported. In the second round, two of the rocks crossed the border into Israel, one intercepted and the other in an open field, the Israeli military said.
Israel responded with artillery fire into the Syrian area from where it fired the trigger. Later, he said, the Israeli military fighter breaks the areas attacked by the Syrian army, adding the formations of the 4th Division and the radar and artillery works of Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the violence in a phone call with Israelis against Isaac Herzog late Saturday, saying Herzog could not keep Muslims silent about “provocations and threats” against the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and said the enmity that had invaded them. Gaza and Lebanon must not fly any further.
In addition to the cross-border fighting, three people were killed over the weekend in Palestinian attacks in Israel and occupied the West Bank.
Hundreds of people, including national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, attended the funeral of two British-Israeli sisters, Maia and Rina Dee, who were killed in a shooting in the West Bank on Friday.
They were buried following a moving ceremony in the Jewish settlement of Kfar Etzion in the West Bank. while the two bodies were brought into the room, one of the sisters prostrated herself and covered the bodies.
“We and no one else in the whole world have ever known so much pain. Amen,” said their father, Lee Dee.
The Italian tourist, Alessandro Parini, 35, a lawyer from the city of Rome, had arrived a few hours earlier with some friends before the short Easter holiday. He was killed Friday in a suspicious car while walking on the beach in Tel Aviv.
More than 90 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year alone, at least half of them affiliated with militant groups, according to a count from the Associated Press. Palestinian attacks on Israelis killed 19 people during that time. but they were all civilians.
Associated writers Suzan Frazer in Ankara, Turkey; Abbess Sewell of Berit and Franciscus D’Emilio of Rome contributed to this report.