JERUSALEM — A new round of Israeli-Palestinian violence continued to escalate Monday as Palestinian militants fired rockets from Gaza toward Jerusalem and Israel responded with airstrikes.
Palestinian health officials said 24 people, including nine children, were killed in the strikes. The Israel Defense Forces would not confirm those figures but said three Palestinian militants were killed in a targeted attack.
The IDF said militants in Gaza fired more than 200 rockets toward Israel, leaving several Israelis wounded.
The exchange followed clashes in Jerusalem on Monday morning and night that left 520 Palestinians wounded, with more than 333 transferred to hospitals, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent emergency medical service.
Israeli police used stun grenades, rubber-coated bullets and water cannons at or nearby the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is located on what Muslims call Haram al-Sharif and Jews call the Temple Mount.
More than a dozen police officers were also hurt.
The Red Crescent also said more than 200 Palestinians were wounded in clashes on the occupied West Bank.
The violence prompted organizers to cancel the annual Jerusalem Day march through the Old City, which marks Israel's capture of East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967. They did so after the government barred Jewish nationalists from marching through Palestinian areas of the city.
Yaakov Novik, a march organizer, said it was the first time in decades that officials prevented them from marching through Damascus Gate, a major entry point to the Old City and a Palestinian gathering area.
"It is succumbing to terror," Novik told NPR.
More violence had been predicted to come later Monday when Jewish religious nationalists and youths were poised to walk in the annual Flag March — part of the Jerusalem Day celebrations.
"Jerusalem is currently a powder keg that could explode," Amos Gilad, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told Army Radio on Monday, according to local media outlets, as he urged officials to cancel the march.
Israeli political and security officials decided to redirect Flag March participants away from their annual route through Palestinian neighborhoods of the Old City, instead rerouting it through the Jewish quarter.
Late Sunday, police sprayed foul-smelling water on Palestinian boys and youths who were gathering, some throwing rocks and water bottles.
The U.S. and other international entities are urging both sides to de-escalate tensions and halt the violence.
"We are extremely concerned about ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem, including on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and in Sheikh Jarrah," a State Department spokesman said Friday, referring to Palestinian areas of Jerusalem.
But the violence continued on Saturday as skirmishes broke out with police outside the mosque, where tens of thousands of Muslims had gathered for the Night of Destiny. The holy night, also called the Night of Power, marks the day when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
Even before Jerusalem Day, Palestinians have been upset by Israeli police tactics during Ramadan. The holy month of fasting and prayer, which ends this week, has routinely been marred by nighttime skirmishes among Palestinians, police and anti-Arab Jewish gangs. Palestinians call the police actions an affront; police have said their goal was to assert crowd control.
Some Israeli commentators have accused new police leadership of an excessive response, saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is focused on his own political survival in Israel's fraught political landscape.
With Jerusalem on edge, Israeli authorities have postponed a court hearing that could force some Palestinians to turn over their homes in the city to a Jewish settler group. In that long-running dispute, the settlers claim ownership rights stemming from a land purchase in the 1800s. But many Palestinians have lived there for decades after being displaced during the 1948 war that immediately followed Israel's creation.
The U.S. has expressed concerns about those possible evictions because Jewish settler groups are motivated ideologically to establish a Jewish majority in Palestinian areas.
NPR's Bill Chappell reported from Washington, D.C.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Today saw a rise in violence between Israelis and Palestinians - violence which both sides threaten could get worse still. Here's what we know. This weekend saw street clashes in Jerusalem. Today saw Hamas rocket fire towards Jerusalem. No injuries reported, but it does mark an escalation. Now Palestinians say at least 20 people, including nine children, were killed by Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. Israel would not confirm that but did say it has been carrying out strikes against militants in Gaza. NPR's Daniel Estrin is tracking all this. He's on the line from Jerusalem now.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Hey. So we should note these are the first reports of civilians killed in this latest cycle of the conflict here. What do we know?
ESTRIN: We know that after Palestinian rocket fire reached the outskirts of Jerusalem, Israel carried out several strikes. And a Palestinian human rights group in Gaza has been tracking them. They say one strike killed five people, then another killed nine, that a pair of strikes killed eight. And children have been reported killed, many people injured as well. The Israeli military is not commenting immediately on reports of civilian deaths, but it does say it targeted three militants.
KELLY: OK. The Israeli military is not commenting. What about the Israeli leadership and Hamas? What are they saying about what they're up to and where this might be headed?
ESTRIN: Well, the Hamas - their militant leader has warned that if Israel bombs civilian infrastructure or homes, that Hamas will be responding with strong, painful measures beyond the enemy's expectations - is the quote. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Gaza militants have crossed a red line by firing rockets reaching close to Jerusalem, and he warned that Israel would respond with force. And he also warned Israeli citizens to brace themselves and said that the current conflict could continue for some time. We're talking about maybe days...
KELLY: Maybe days. OK.
ESTRIN: ...According to a military official.
KELLY: And why now? I mean, the backdrop is that there have been clashes between - mostly between Palestinians and Israeli police for weeks in Jerusalem.
ESTRIN: That's right. It's been a string of events that's really built up over the last month. I mean, first, Palestinians had been clashing with police over what police said was crowd control at a popular gathering spot on Ramadan. Then we saw a lot of street fighting between civilians, a controversy over court-ordered evictions of Palestinians from their homes in a neighborhood in Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settler groups. And Hamas warned that Israel would pay if it did not stop these evictions. The U.S. was also concerned about these evictions. Israeli officials tried to defuse tensions, delayed a court ruling on the evictions. Perhaps some of those measures were too late because we've been seeing large crowds gathering for the last days of Ramadan in Jerusalem. And hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded, clashing with police there.
KELLY: I suppose the other context people should have in their minds as they hear about this is this follows a deadlocked Israeli election and follows a Palestinian election that was canceled. What is the political context for both sides?
ESTRIN: That's right. Palestinian elections were postponed. Hamas was - seemed poised to win. But in Gaza, Hamas has not been very popular lately after more than a decade of ruling Gaza under blockade and many, many wars. Hamas has adopted the banner of defending Jerusalem, and this makes it popular. As in - as for Israel, there's a leadership vacuum. Netanyahu's rivals are trying to form a new government and trying to unseat him. Some say that the tensions here favor Netanyahu. He has already said that this moment of fighting is a test of leadership. Whoever is incapable of leading and withstanding this pressure is unfit for leadership, he says.
KELLY: NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting from Jerusalem.
Thank you, Daniel.
ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.