14-story building in Gaza collapses after Israeli airstrike

(CNN)Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians boiled over this week, escalating rapidly into one of the worst rounds of violence between the two sides in the last several years.

An already tense situation prompted by moves to evict Palestinian families from their homes near the Old City in Jerusalem exploded at one of the holiest sites in the city, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Israeli police entered the Al Aqsa Mosque and clashed with Palestinians inside the sacred site, firing stun grenades while Palestinians threw stones.

    The resulting clashes there and in other parts of the Old City left hundreds of Palestinians and some Israeli police officers injured. Palestinian militant groups in Gaza joined the fray by firing rockets into Israel, which responded with airstrikes.

      A United Nations representative warned the situation was “escalating towards a full-scale war.”

      Since then, hundreds more rockets have been fired by Palestinian militant groups from Gaza and Israel has stepped up its artillery and airstrike bombardment of the territory. Israel has also called up reservists, fueling fears of an imminent ground invasion in Gaza.
      Meanwhile, several cities in Israel have been rocked by rioting and violent clashes between Arab and Jewish citizens.
      Putting a lid on the violence may not be easy. Political, religious, and nationalist factors all play a role in the situation.

      Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system is activated to intercept a rocket launched from Gaza on Wednesday.

      Why is this happening now?

      The city had been on edge for several weeks, with Palestinians angered over the closure of a popular plaza just as Ramadan was beginning, and as a years-long legal battle to remove seven Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem appeared set to end with eviction.
      The families have been living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, just north of the Old City, since 1956 — in an arrangement brokered by the United Nations to find homes in Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem for families who lost their property in what became the state of Israel in 1948.
      An Israeli nationalist organization called Nahalat Shimon is using a 1970 law — passed after Israel gained control over East Jerusalem — to argue that the owners of the land before 1948 were Jewish families, meaning the current Palestinian occupants should be evicted and their properties given to Israeli Jews.
      Palestinians contend that restitution laws in Israel are unfair because they have no legal means to reclaim the property they lost to Jewish families in the late 1940s in what became the state of Israel.
      Israel’s Supreme Court was due to hear an appeal in the Sheikh Jarrah case on May 10. But Israel’s Attorney General asked for a delay.
      The legal battle over the homes in Sheikh Jarrah has reignited a simmering debate about who has claim to the city, its holy sites, and its history. Jerusalem has always been the most sensitive part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Small changes to a delicate situation can ignite massive protests. And extremist voices are often on hand and make themselves known.
      Hundreds of Jewish extremists marched through Jerusalem at the end of April chanting “Death to Arabs,” on a night when there were a number of incidents reported of the city’s Jewish and Arab communities targeting one another for attack.
      Earlier this week, the annual Jerusalem Day march, which normally works its way through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, was re-rerouted in an attempt to avoid further escalation.

      A Palestinian walks next to a building destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on Thursday, May 13.

      Israeli soldiers fire a 155mm self-propelled howitzer towards Gaza from their position near the southern Israeli city of Sderot on May 13.

      Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian man outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on May 13.

      Julianna Sror views the damage to her apartment after it was hit by a rocket fired from Gaza overnight in Petah Tikva, Israel, on May 13.

      A fireball engulfs the Al-Walid building, which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City early on May 13.

      A man checks damage following a rocket attack from Gaza in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva on May 13.

      Muslims perform the morning Eid al-Fitr prayer, marking the end of the <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2021/04/13/world/gallery/ramadan-2021/index.html" target="_blank">holy fasting month of Ramadan</a> in the Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on May 13.

      A passenger rolls his luggage at the nearly deserted Ben Gurion airport in Lod, Israel, on May 13. Global airlines are <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2021/05/13/business/airlines-canceled-flights-israel/index.html" target="_blank">canceling flights to Israel</a> as clashes intensify between the country's military and Palestinian militants.

      Israeli police patrol Lod during clashes on Wednesday, May 12.

      Mourners surround the body of Lea Yom Tov, an Israeli woman killed by a rocket attack from Gaza, during her funeral in Rishon LeZion, Israel, on May 12.

      Palestinians inspect a vehicle destroyed by an Israeli airstrike after the bodies of its occupants were retrieved in Gaza City on May 12.

      A man walks through debris after a rocket launched from Gaza struck an area in Holon, Israel, on May 12.

      An aerial view on May 12 shows the remains of a Gaza City tower building that was destroyed in Israeli airstrikes.

      Torah scrolls, Jewish holy scriptures, are removed from a synagogue that was burned during confrontations between demonstrators and police in Lod, Israel, on May 12.

      Smoke billows from an Israeli airstrike on the Hanadi compound in Gaza City on Tuesday, May 11.

      An Israeli firefighter extinguishes a burning bus in Holon, Israel, after it was hit by a rocket fired from Gaza on May 11.

      A stun grenade fired by Israeli forces explodes as Palestinians take part in an anti-Israel protest in Hebron, West Bank, on May 11.

      People sit on a staircase of a house in Ashkelon, Israel, as rockets are fired from Gaza on May 11.

      A streak of light is seen from Ashkelon, Israel, as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from Gaza on May 11.

      Palestinians inspect the rubble of the destroyed Hanadi tower after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on May 11.

      A damaged house is pictured in a residential neighborhood in Ashkelon, Israel, on May 11, after rockets were fired from Gaza.

      Palestinian children inspect a damaged bedroom following an Israeli airstrike at al-Shati Refugee Camp in Gaza City on May 11.

      Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system fires to intercept rockets launched from Gaza on May 11.

      Israeli firefighters take cover in Ashkelon as a siren sounds a warning of incoming rockets on May 11.

      Palestinians search for survivors under the rubble of a destroyed rooftop after a residential building was hit by Israeli missile strikes at the Shate refugee camp in Gaza City on May 11.

      Israeli security forces take cover in Ashkelon as rockets are launched from Gaza on May 11.

      The mother of Palestinian Hussain Hamad, 11, is comforted by mourners during his funeral in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, on May 11. The boy was killed during fire between Israel and Gaza.

      Flames and smoke rise from buildings in southern Gaza during Israeli airstrikes on May 11.

      A Palestinian man inspects the rubble of a partially destroyed residential building after it was hit by Israeli missile strikes in Gaza City on May 11.

      An Israeli soldier checks a damaged apartment building in Ashkelon on May 11.

      Israeli rescue teams help residents in a residential neighborhood of Ashkelon on May 11.

      A Palestinian man runs from tear gas during clashes with Israeli security forces at the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on Monday, May 10.

      Israelis take part in the annual Jerusalem Day march on May 10, marking the reunification of Jerusalem after Israel captured the eastern part of the city from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War.

      Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces at the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10.

      Palestinians are seen at the Aqsa Mosque compound during confrontations with Israeli police on May 10.

      Israeli police detain a Palestinian during clashes at the Aqsa Mosque on May 10.

      Palestinians place the Hamas movement flag atop the Aqsa mosque on May 10.

      What is East Jerusalem and why is it so sensitive?

      For nearly two decades after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the city of Jerusalem was divided. East Jerusalem was controlled by the Jordanians, while West Jerusalem was controlled by the Israelis, who made it their capital.
      Crucially, the Old City of Jerusalem and its holy sites were in East Jerusalem.
      The Old City is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Christians believe Jesus Christ was buried.
      It is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed journeyed on his Night Voyage, as well as the site where they believe he ascended to heaven.
      And it is home to the holiest site in the world for Jews, the stone where they believe Abraham came to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and where the First and Second Temples stood in ancient times.
      During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel captured East Jerusalem, placing the entire city under Israeli control. Israel also captured the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. The latter was returned to Egypt under the 1979 peace agreement, but East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights have remained under full Israeli control. The Palestinians enjoy limited autonomy in Gaza and parts of the West Bank, but Israel maintains control of all borders and security.

      A Palestinian man runs from tear gas during clashes with Israeli security forces at the Al Aqsa Mosque.

      What is the reality in Jerusalem today?

      The entire city of Jerusalem is under Israeli control. Israel says there is no difference between the city’s east and west, instead describing the city as its united capital. (Even so, the city is largely self-segregated. East Jerusalem is largely Palestinian, while West Jerusalem is largely Israeli. Israeli cab drivers often refuse to drive to locations in East Jerusalem.)
      But international law considers East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and Gaza as occupied territory under United Nations Security Council Resolutions, though that characterization is disputed by Israel. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, passed in 2016, said that Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory have “no legal validity” and constitute a flagrant violation of international law.
      International law does not distinguish between settlements in the West Bank or settlements in East Jerusalem, considering them both occupied territory.
      The Old City, and more specifically the Al Aqsa compound, is governed by its own agreement known as the Status Quo.
      Israel is in charge of security on the site, and Jordan, through an Islamic organization called the Waqf, administers the religious sites.
      In normal times, visitors of all faiths are allowed to visit the complex, but only Muslims are allowed to pray there.
      Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

      Israelis take part in the annual Jewish nationalist "Jerusalem Day" march on Monday.

      What do Israel and Palestinian officials say about the Sheikh Jarrah case?

      Palestinian leaders say the effort to evict families from their homes is nothing less than “ethnic cleansing” aimed at “Judaizing the holy city,” the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
      Israel says the conflict is simply a “real-estate dispute.” The Foreign Ministry accused the Palestinian Authority and militant groups of “presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties, as a nationalistic cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem.”
      More than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced during the creation of the state of Israel, according to the United Nations agency supporting Palestinian refugees.

      What is the international community’s position?

      The effort to evict Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood has been widely criticized.
      State Department spokesman Ned Price said in early May that the United States is “deeply concerned about the potential eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods of Jerusalem, many of whom have lived in their homes for generations. As we have consistently said, it is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace. This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
      Israeli and Palestinian violence pulls US focus back to Middle East, despite Biden's plans
      The European Commission also condemned the violence and expressed concern about the possible evictions. “Such actions are illegal under international humanitarian law and only serve to fuel tensions on the ground,” said Peter Stano, EU Commission lead spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in a statement.
      The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said on May 7 that the law is “applied in an inherently discriminatory manner,” adding that the transfer of Israeli civilians onto occupied land could be “prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime.”

      Why else have tensions escalated recently?

      The Sheikh Jarrah case is the flashpoint for tensions, but they quickly spread throughout the city and far beyond the confines of Jerusalem.
      The situation in Jerusalem can escalate in a hurry on its own, but the sensitivities in the city have been compounded by a combination of religious and nationalist factors.
      Two holidays fell on the same weekend this year: the Muslim Night of Power (Leylet el-Qadr) on the night of May 8, considered the holiest night of the year; and the Israeli holiday of Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim) on May 9-10, celebrating the day the Israeli military took control of the Old City in 1967.
      Each holiday on its own can inspire religious and nationalist fervor, and together they are even more liable to ignite an already tense situation.
      Israel holds all the cards in Jerusalem, yet the city has never been more divided

      The political situation has not helped. Israel has had four inconclusive elections in a row, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has courted some openly extreme racist politicians as he struggles to build a coalition and stay in power. That has emboldened some far-right Jewish groups.
      Right-wing Israeli politicians Itamar Ben-Gvir and Arieh King came to Sheikh Jarrah to send a message that the entire city belongs to Israel. Their presence fanned the flames.

        The Palestinian political situation is hardly clearer than the Israeli one. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in April delayed the first parliamentary elections in 15 years, extending a long-running rivalry where his Fatah movement governs the West Bank, while Gaza is run by the militant Hamas, with Islamic Jihad also active there.
        Such is the power of Jerusalem. Protests in Jerusalem can ignite protests in Israel and the West Bank, as well as prompt militant groups in Gaza to fire rockets and the Israel Defense Forces to launch airstrikes. A situation that began in one neighborhood in Jerusalem has now spread across the area and brought international attention to Israel and the Palestinian territories once again.
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