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Violence ignites after raids at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem


For two days in a row, Israeli police have raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Israel says they were going after Palestinians stockpiling rocks and fireworks. Scenes circulated around the region showing police using batons to beat people inside one of Islam's holiest sites.


FLORIDO: Soon, militants fired rockets into Israel. A few came from Gaza, many more from Lebanon, and that's important. We'll get to it in a moment. The region is on edge. Violence is expected to continue. The question is, on what scale? NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us from Tel Aviv. Hi, Daniel.


FLORIDO: Can you explain how all of this has snowballed from a crisis in Jerusalem to a crisis on multiple fronts?

ESTRIN: Yeah. Well, Ramadan and Passover happened to coincide this year. And there was a fringe Jewish group that was calling to revive this biblical tradition of a Passover goat sacrifice at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. This is an ancient site. It's revered in Islam but also in Judaism. And Palestinian activists were gathering overnight at the Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it from this fringe group. Israeli police then raided the mosque to break up the group of activists, and sparks were literally flying inside the mosque. Palestinians had stockpiled fireworks. They were setting off fireworks.

And Israeli police repeatedly hit and beat Palestinians who were on the carpeted mosque floor. And this was caught on video, and it spread on social media throughout the Middle East and sparked a lot of anger. Israel is actually blaming Hamas, the Hamas militia in Gaza, for helping spread these images on social media and trying to ignite tension and violence. So we saw militants in Gaza then fire rockets onto Israel's south. What's unusual here, though, is that militants in Lebanon also fired a few dozen rockets on Israel's north. So Israel is now facing threats on both its southern and northern borders.

FLORIDO: Tell us more about the significance of rocket fire from Lebanon and who was behind that.

ESTRIN: It is significant. This was the biggest rocket barrage from Lebanon to Israel since the two countries fought a devastating war in 2006. And just imagine the scene - Israelis celebrating Passover. Air raid sirens go off in northern Israel. There are a lot of social media videos of this, people watching Israel's anti-rocket battery shooting down these rockets midair. Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Now, Israel is saying that Palestinian militants in Lebanon were responsible for firing these rockets and that Hamas has orchestrated this but that something of this scope - you know, so many rockets, a couple dozen of them flying out of Lebanon into Israel - that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah would have to have been aware of this. Now, that's important because Israel is considering who is responsible. Is Hamas there? Is it Hezbollah? Is it also possibly Iran involved? Remember; Israel has been stepping up its bombing campaign against Iranian targets in Syria.

The significance of these rockets, you know, are symbolic. There was no one killed. The rockets were mostly intercepted - not a major military threat. It's a lot more about sending a message. Israeli officials think that this may have been a premeditated attempt by Israel's enemies trying to take advantage of Israel at a moment of weakness when this country has been consumed with months of protests, major controversy over the government's plans to weaken the judiciary, to change Israel's system of checks and balances. Military reservists have even been threatening not to serve, protesting this move. And so some here in Israel worry that the country looks divided now and a perfect time for Israel's enemies to act.

FLORIDO: What might be the calculations that Israel's leaders and the militants make as they take action in the next hours or days?

ESTRIN: Well, Israeli security chiefs have met. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will make those militants who fired the rockets pay a price. Israel will be considering who is responsible here. Is it Hamas, Hezbollah? Is it even Iran? Israel has been striking Iranian targets a lot more lately and Syria. Now, Israel does not want to be dragged out into an all-out war. It says it wants to reestablish deterrents. The militants, for their part, also don't want an all-out war, but they also don't want to back down. We are already hearing from the Israeli military that they've begun airstrikes in the Gaza strip. We're going to have to see how much things escalate from here.

FLORIDO: I've been speaking with NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Thank you.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.