Israeli military suspends drill to focus on possible escalation in violence

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Israeli Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at the Israeli Air Force pilots' graduation ceremony at Hatzerim air base in southern Israel June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

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JERUSALEM, May 10 (Reuters) - The Israeli military said on Monday it was suspending for a day a major drill in order 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 Lieutenant-General 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", a military statement said.

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In Gaza, a spokesman for the Hamas militant group, said the leadership of a joint command of armed movements in the Palestinian enclave had given Israel "an ultimatum until 6 p.m. (1500 GMT)" 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.

The Hamas spokesman did not say what action the armed groups would take if Israel did not meet the demand.

Israel has also been beefing up forces in the occupied West Bank and around the Gaza Strip, where militants have fired several rockets at southern Israel since Sunday, to preempt any spread of unrest from East Jerusalem.

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Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch Editing by Jeffrey Heller

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