The Israeli military, prepared for the latest eruption of cross-border fighting with militant groups in the Gaza Strip, designated a code name for its operation just hours after the deadly violence began: Guardians of the Walls, a reference to the ancient ramparts of the Old City of Jerusalem. The militant groups had their own code name for their campaign: Sword of Jerusalem.
By early Tuesday, barely 12 hours after Hamas, the Islamic militant group that holds sway in Gaza, had launched a surprise volley of rockets toward Jerusalem, Israel had carried out at least 130 retaliatory airstrikes in the Palestinian coastal territory, according to an Israeli military spokesman, Lt Col Jonathan Conricus. Militant groups had fired at least 200 rockets into Israel, Conricus said.
Twenty-three Palestinians, including nine children, were killed in the airstrikes overnight and 107 others were wounded, according to health officials in Gaza.
Conricus said Tuesday that 15 militants had been killed in strikes by jets and unmanned drones.
He did not confirm or reject the reports of civilian deaths, adding, “We are doing everything possible to avoid collateral damage.”
Hamas said that a number of its militants had been killed and that some others had been reported missing in an Israeli attack on a target, without giving further details.
Although the intensity of the fighting seemed to have waned slightly during the night, Conricus said that the military’s air campaign was still in its “early stages.” Sporadic airstrikes and rocket barrages continued early Tuesday.
The Israeli military said in a statement that it had reinforced its troops and was “prepared for a variety of scenarios.”
The cross-border military conflict escalated rapidly Monday evening after weeks of rising tensions and confrontations between the police and Palestinian protesters in and around the ancient center of Jerusalem, including at the sacred Al-Aqsa compound. Hamas, casting itself as the Palestinian defender of the contested city, had issued a series of threats and ultimatums.
The immediate trigger appears to have been a police raid at the mosque compound Monday morning to disperse crowds and stone-throwing protesters.