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.