Militants in Lebanon fire rockets into Israel amid clashes at holy site in Jerusalem

Israeli-Palestinian confrontations in Jerusalem moved the Middle East closer to a broader conflict. The Israeli military says Hamas or Islamic jihad militants in Lebanon fired 34 rockets into northern Israel Thursday. The Israelis said they shot down 25 of the rockets, but at least two people were wounded in the barrage. Amna Nawaz discussed the conflict with Ronen Bergman.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Our other lead story tonight: Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at a Jerusalem holy site have spilled over into Lebanon.

    The Israeli military says Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants in Lebanon fired 34 rockets into Northern Israel today. Trails of white smoke from those rockets streaked over the city of Nahariya. The Israeli said they shot down 25 of the rockets, but at least two people were wounded in the barrage.

    Late tonight, the Israelis began airstrikes against targets in Gaza. A short time later, sirens sounded in Israeli towns near Gaza, indicating new rocket attacks.

    To get an update on the latest, we're joined now by Ronen Bergman in Tel Aviv. He's a staff writer for "The New York Times Magazine" and author of "Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations."

    Ronen, welcome. And thanks for joining us.

    Just bring us up to speed on the latest that we have seen about those Israeli airstrikes, and now it seems like retaliatory strikes in Israel.

    Ronen Bergman, "The New York Times Magazine": Yes.

    Well, one of the things that Israel has tried to refrain from and make sure that its adversaries are not doing is to have some kind of collective planning and connecting between the different fronts that Israel has to face.

    And, here, Israel achieved the exact opposite. While something happened in Jerusalem on Temple Mount, that led to a confrontation with Hamas in Gaza. And now, as a retaliation for both of those, Hamas is able to fire from Lebanon to Israel, in the most extensive rocket barrage since 2006. That's the last time that Israel and Hezbollah, the main militant militia that is situated in Lebanon, had an all-out war.

    So it's a deterioration of the situation. The Cabinet just finished its session, the Israeli Cabinet. And it was followed by, as you mentioned, bombing in Gaza, which is now followed by yet another firing of mortars and rockets into Israeli cities in the south.

    I think what Israel is trying to do is to react, but not deteriorate to a full confrontation. We will see the next hour if this attempt is successful.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Ronen, I know this is progressing quickly. You mentioned the incident in Temple Mount.

    I want to bring people up to speed who aren't following every twist and turn. There were Israeli police forces who went into what's known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where there were worshipers there. This is, of course, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, coinciding with Jews beginning to observe Passover.

    Is there any sign that that could happen again, that there will be further escalation at Al-Aqsa or how Israeli forces will continue to respond?

  • Ronen Bergman:

    Well, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount is probably the most sensitive place on Earth. And anything can provoke further deterioration to violence there.

    Yesterday, according to the Israeli police, many of the worshipers barricaded themselves in one of the praying rooms, which led to the police breaking in because the police doesn't allow anyone to stay overnight inside the Al-Aqsa, which led to a massive outburst of violence from, I assume, both sides.

    Many of the worshipers were injured. Many of them were arrested to Israeli officers. And, of course, we have the different narratives from both sides. But it is clear that Israel has done something that many Israelis, including policymakers and intelligence officers, advised not to do, which is not to do, especially not during Passover, especially not during Ramadan, do not touch the most sensitive button in this confrontation.

    And, as expected, this just inflamed the region in a further deterioration that we are not sure that we see the end of. I would assume that, during the — tomorrow's Friday praying, the most important praying of the week, in Al-Aqsa, the police will try to do whatever it can not to intervene.

    There are other elements of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other elements inside the Palestinian public are calling for what they call protecting the holy mountain from what they see as Israeli or Jewish provocation.

    And yet to be seen, also — this is also Israeli domestic politics — whether Benjamin Netanyahu, who, for the first time, called for a Cabinet meeting since January, whether Benjamin Netanyahu will adopt the more moderate line, as also suggested and advised by the intelligence services in the military, or will follow calls from the most extreme ministers in his own Cabinet that are calling for a harsh line, tough hand, and reaction with much force to the different fronts and different challenges that Israeli public and Israeli military establishment is facing.

    This is all on top of, I would say, much suspicion towards Netanyahu from much of the Israeli public, that he's spoiling for some kind of confrontation to divert the attention of the Israeli public from the hot domestic politics that he has gone through trying to pass the judicial overhaul the last few months.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's a tenuous situation escalating quickly. We will be following your reporting.

    That is Ronen Bergman of "The New York Times Magazine" joining us from Tel Aviv.

    Ronen, thank you.

  • Ronen Bergman:

    Thank you so much.

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