JERUSALEM/GAZA, April 7 (Reuters) – Israel reinforced troops near its borders with Lebanon and Gaza on Friday following a flare-up in violence that threatened to spiral out of control after police raids this week on the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
But even as major salvoes of rockets were fired at northern and southern Israel over the past day and Israel’s military replied with strikes in Lebanon and Gaza, no serious injuries were reported and neither side seemed keen to broaden the conflict.
“Nobody wants an escalation right now,” an Israeli army spokesman told reporters. “Quiet will be answered with quiet, at this stage I think, at least in the coming hours.”
Much hinged on Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem’s walled Old City, which draws large crowds and has been a flashpoint during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Apart from some minor incidents of stone-throwing, police said the compound was so far quiet.
Earlier in the week Israeli police clashed with Palestinian worshippers, arresting and removing hundreds of people from the compound – in what they called a raid to remove agitators holed up in the mosque – and drawing condemnation across the Arab world.
The ensuing rocket attacks on Thursday were the largest from Lebanon since a 2006 war. They interrupted the Jewish holiday of Passover and sent residents running for shelters. In the south, firefighters doused a blaze and police cleared away the debris from a rocket fired from Gaza that struck a house.
Before noon on Friday, however, Israel’s military said residents near the Gaza frontier no longer needed to keep close to bomb shelters.
Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the main military spokesman, said extra infantry and artillery forces were sent to the northern and southern commands to help defend against “possible scenarios”.
In Gaza the streets were largely empty except for some taxis and emergency vehicles. In the Tufah neighbourhood of Gaza City, where Palestinian officials said an Israeli air strike hit an open field, some nearby houses and a children’s hospital were damaged.
Taxi driver Ali Mohammad, 29, said he hoped the round of fighting was over. “Who wants war? No one, but also we can’t stand these brutal assaults on worshippers in Al-Aqsa,” he said.