News of the rocket launches first popped up on Israeli smartphone apps asking for those in cities near the Gaza strip to stay alert. The IDF later confirmed at least two missiles were fired from the Gaza Strip “towards the State of Israel,” but failed to strike its intended targets.
Later Thursday, the IDF struck two Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip. The IDF said the strikes were in retaliation to rocket launches from the enclave earlier. Israel used the Air Force and a tank in its strike, the IDF said.
A local Salafist group called the Al-Tawheed Brigade claimed responsibility for the missile launches, the Jerusalem Post reported. However, the IDF has repeatedly stated that it holds Hamas responsible for all hostile activities which emanate from Gaza, and which targets Israel.
The attack came amid ongoing mass protests against the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which engulfed some regions of the occupied West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip. More than thirty Palestinians were injured by gunfire and rubber bullets from the IDF in the protests Thursday, medical sources told Reuters.
Protesters were throwing rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops while burning US and Israeli flags.
In the West Bank cities of Hebron and Al-Bireh, the protest rallies were attended by thousands of demonstrators who chanted, "Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Palestine.” In the cities of Ramallah, Tul Karm, and Nablus, also located on the West bank, hundreds of protesters were burning pictures and effigies of Trump as well as throwing stones at security forces.
In Ramallah and Gaza, angry protesters defaced and burned US flags. Demonstrators were also chanting, “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” Israeli media reported.
In response, Israeli troops used “riot-dispersal gear,” a military spokeswoman told journalists. The clashes left four people injured, 20 by gunfire and 20 more by rubber bullets. Israeli security forces also fired tear gas at the protesters.
An RT Arabic producer was injured in one incident in Ramallah when Israeli troops used tear gas to disperse protesters. The producer lost consciousness following the tear gas attack and was hospitalized.
Dozens of angry protesters gathered near the border fence with Israel in Gaza, hurling rocks at Israeli troops on the other side. Soldiers responded with gunfire, injuring at least seven people, as reported by Reuters.
The IDF, meanwhile, announced that additional troops would be deployed to the areas affected by the mass protests as part of “the IDF's readiness for possible developments." In the view of a “situational assessment by the IDF General Staff,” the Israeli army “decided that a number of battalions will reinforce the area of [the West Bank], as well as combat intelligence and territorial defense units,” the IDF said, as cited by the Times of Israel.
Israeli police also announced that it would deploy additional officers to Jerusalem. Police “are prepared for an immediate operational response to a wide range of scenarios if necessary,” a police spokesperson said. At the same time, protests in the city were reported to be non-violent.
Earlier, Palestinian Islamist group Hamas called for a new uprising against Israel following the US decision. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the US move “deplorable.” He also travelled to Jordan to meet King Abdullah II to discuss the rapidly developing issue.
Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital Wednesday, in a move that almost immediately triggered large scale protests across the Middle East. Palestinians called for three days of rage against the controversial move. Anti-US protests were also held in Jordan and even in Turkey, a US NATO ally.
The US decision also provoked concerns among world leaders, with many denouncing the move. Egypt and Jordan said Wednesday that they reject the declaration. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Trump’s announcement disregards the 1980 UN resolution on the status of Jerusalem and threatened to cut ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia called the step “irresponsible and unwarranted.”
Even traditional US allies in Europe were reluctant to support Washington. On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country would “stick to the relevant UN resolutions,” which “make clear that the status of Jerusalem needs to be negotiated as part of negotiations on a two-state solution for Israel.” Earlier, the Chancellor made clear that Germany will not support Trump's decision on Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.