JERUSALEM – Loud explosions were heard shortly after air raid sirens sounded over Jerusalem on Monday evening just after 6pm local time.
The explosions were heard after Hamas, the armed group that rules Gaza, issued an ultimatum.
Rocket fire was also reported near Gaza, with images uploaded to social media showing streaks of white smoke in the sky near the border with Israel, although footage could not immediately be verified.
By 8pm local time, Gaza’s Health Ministry reported that nine civilians had been killed, including three children, in Beit Hanoun, north Gaza.
The health ministry said the civilians had been targeted, without giving further details.
Israel typically responds to rocket fire in the Gaza Strip with air strikes and artillery fire, but the Israeli army issued no statement on the civilian deaths.
“Following the previous report regarding the sirens which sounded in the cities of Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, seven rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory. One of the rockets was intercepted by the Iron Dome Aerial Defense System” a statement from the Israeli army said.
The Israeli army also said that anti-tank missiles had been fired over the border with Gaza.
Militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad also claimed to have fired a rocket barrage into Israel, shortly after several Israeli towns were put on “Red Alert” by the Israeli military.
Israel’s legislative assembly, the Knesset, was evacuated as the sirens sounded, a moment captured on the parliament’s TV feed.
The Israeli military said on Monday it was suspending for a day a major drill to focus efforts on preparing for a possible escalation of violence as tensions simmer with Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Israel’s armed forces began on Sunday their biggest exercise in 30 years, codenamed “Chariots of Fire”.
But following a situational assessment, Chief of Staff Lt Gen Aviv Kohavi decided to suspend the exercise for the coming day and has instructed forces “to focus all efforts on preparations and readiness for escalation scenarios”, the military said.
In Gaza, a spokesman for Hamas said the leadership of a joint command of armed movements in the Palestinian enclave had given Israel “an ultimatum until 6pm to withdraw its security forces from Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque compound and the city’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at Al Aqsa earlier in the day, and several Palestinian families face eviction from homes in Sheikh Jarrah claimed by Jewish settlers in a long-running legal case that has fueled tensions in Jerusalem.
This is a developing story with more updates to follow…