Israel has launched air strikes against militant targets in the Gaza Strip, after rockets were fired from the territory towards Jerusalem.
Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel on Monday, including a barrage that set off air raid sirens as far away as Jerusalem, after hundreds of Palestinians were hurt in clashes with Israeli police at a flashpoint religious site in the contested holy city.
In Jerusalem, the rocket fire caused Israel’s parliament to be evacuated as sirens sounded.
The rocket fire drew heavy Israeli retaliation in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas-run Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said at least 20 people, including nine children, were killed in the strikes, making it one of the bloodiest days of battle between the bitter enemies in several years.
Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been spiralling.
The past few days have seen the worst violence in Jerusalem for years, with more than 300 Palestinians wounded in confrontations with Israeli police outside the Al-Aqsa mosque on Monday.
Israel said the air strikes had killed at least three Hamas militants. “We have started, and I repeat started, to attack military targets in Gaza,” Israeli military spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus told reporters.
Hamas sources told the BBC a commander of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Mohammed Abdullah Fayyad, had been killed.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Hamas needed to end the rocket attacks “immediately”, adding: “All sides need to de-escalate.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas of crossing a “red line” with the rocket attack on Jerusalem, some 100km north of Gaza.
He promised that Israel would respond “with great force”.
“Whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” he said, warning that the fighting could ”continue for some time”.