Jews and Arabs have clashed for a century over the fate of Jerusalem. Tensions seem always to be near the surface in a city that is home to major religious sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
It is the Israeli capital. It would be the capital of Palestine should a separate Palestinian state be created, after decades of verbal broadsides between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and literal war in the streets.
For the Mideast, it is a story that has been told many times.
Failed negotiations and endless recriminations are recorded on the Mideast ledger decade after decade. And now the world is watching as more painful history unfolds in an all-too-familiar scenario, as Hamas militants launch waves of missiles from Gaza toward Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities while the Jewish state responds with deadly airstrikes that have leveled Gaza buildings.
With Israel's superior arsenal, the carnage inflicted by the country is perhaps not surprising. The precision strikes on specific Gaza buildings have killed 212 people, including at least 59 children, and wounded about 1,400, according to Gaza health authorities. Meanwhile, Hamas' often haphazard rocket fire aimed at Israel, but sometimes not even landing outside Gaza, has killed at least 10 Israelis, according to Israeli authorities.
The Israeli attacks have drawn growing condemnation from across the world, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has no plans for an immediate stop to the assault. He has vowed that Hamas will pay a steep price for its attacks.
Hamas has been in contact with the United Nations, Russia, Egypt and Qatar as part of cease-fire efforts, but its top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said it “will not accept a solution that is not up to the sacrifices of the Palestinian people,” according to the Associated Press.
The roots of the current fighting may date back to the 1948 founding of Israel, in the aftermath of Germany's genocide of European Jews during World War II, or beyond, with Palestinians aggrieved about loss of their Mideast homelands.
Fight over Jerusalem
But the immediate conflict now seems specifically focused on Jerusalem. Palestinian protesters and Israeli police have clashed in the streets for days in and around Jerusalem's Old City, with several incidents triggering the Hamas missile strikes and Israeli bombing runs that followed.
Israel considers Jerusalem as its "unified, eternal" capital. It captured east Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, in the 1967 Mideast war, but Palestinians want those territories for any eventual Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem serving as their would-be capital.
A month ago, Israel moved to halt some Palestinian gatherings at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The New York Times reported that on April 13, 27 days before Hamas fired the first rocket from Gaza, Israeli police brusquely moved into the al-Aqsa Mosque, considered the third-holiest site in Islam, and cut the cables to the loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the Muslim faithful.
But the same day was Memorial Day in Israel, honoring the country's war dead. The Israeli president was giving a speech at the Western Wall, a sacred Jewish site located below the mosque, and Israeli officials were said to be concerned that the Muslim prayers would drown out his address. The Temple Mount, where the mosque is located, is considered the holiest site in Judaism.
There were other immediate conflicts as well. Palestinian protests erupted over the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah by Jewish settlers. As the conflict brewed, the Israeli Supreme Court delayed a decision on the dispute.
With the clashes at al-Aqsa and the settlement disputes in Sheikh Jarrah, Hamas, which the U.S. and its Western allies consider to be a terrorist group, called for a new intifada, or uprising.
Rocket fire aimed at Israel soon followed on May 10. Some Arab countries that have close relations with Israel have condemned its attacks on Hamas-controlled Gaza, while Iran, Israel's archenemy, has encouraged the Hamas attacks.
The U.S. and the European Union both deplore the violence. They have called on Hamas to stop its rocket attacks. They say Israel has a right to defend itself but also caution the country about the continuing carnage and the housing evictions.