Israel and Gaza exchange fire after deadly strikes

Israeli fighter jets pounded militant targets in Gaza as rockets rained down on southern Israel, hours after a wave of Israeli airstrikes on the coastal enclave killed at least 11 people, including a militant high-ranking and a five-year-old girl.

The fighting that began Friday with Israel’s dramatic targeted killing of a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group continued through the night, bringing the sides one step closer to all-out war.

But the territory’s Hamas leaders appeared to be staying on the sidelines of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat contained, for now.

Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several small battles over the past 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory’s two million Palestinian inhabitants.

Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on building in Gaza City Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City (Hatem Moussa/AP)

The latest round of violence between Israel and Gaza was sparked by the arrest this week of a senior Islamic Jihad operative in the West Bank, as part of a month-long Israeli military operation in the territory.

Citing a security threat, Israel then sealed roads around the Gaza Strip and killed the militant leader in a targeted strike on Friday.

An explosion was heard in Gaza City, where smoke poured from the seventh floor of a tall building.

Video released by the Israeli military showed the strikes blowing up three guard towers with suspected militants inside.

In a nationally televised address on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country launched the attacks based on “concrete threats”.

“This government has a policy of zero tolerance for any attempted attack – of any kind – from Gaza into Israeli territory,” Lapid said.

“Israel will not sit idly by when there are those who try to harm its civilians.”

“Israel is not interested in a wider conflict in Gaza but will not shy away from it either,” he added.

The damaged apartment of Taiseer al-Jabari, the Islamic Jihad commander for northern Gaza, following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza CityThe damaged apartment of Taiseer al-Jabari, the Islamic Jihad commander for northern Gaza, following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City (Adel Hana/AP)

The violence is an early test for Mr Lapid, who took on the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of the November election as he hopes to retain his post.

Mr Lapid, a former TV host and centrist author, has a diplomatic background having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has weak security credentials.

A conflict with Gaza could improve his position and give him a boost as he takes on former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country in three of his four wars with Hamas.

Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new battle barely a year after the last war caused widespread devastation.

Since then, there has been almost no reconstruction and the isolated coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said a five-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman were among those killed in Gaza, without distinguishing between civilian and militant casualties.

The Israeli army said early estimates were that around 15 fighters had been killed.

Rockets are seen in the sky fired by Palestinian militants towards Israel in GazaRockets are seen in the sky fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza towards Israel (Adel Hana/AP)

Dozens were injured.

Islamic Jihad said Taiseer al-Jabari, its commander for northern Gaza, was among the dead.

He had taken over from another activist killed in an airstrike in 2019.

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles.

The spokesman said al-Jabari had been deliberately targeted and was responsible for “multiple attacks” against Israel.

Hundreds of people marched in a funeral procession for him and others who were killed, with many mourners waving Palestinian and Islamic Jihad flags and calling for revenge.

Israeli media showed the skies above southern and central Israel lighting up with rockets and interceptors from Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

It was not immediately clear how many rockets had been launched, and there was no immediate word on the casualties on the Israeli side.

Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on building in Gaza CitySmoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City (Hatem Moussa/AP)

Overnight, Israel struck rocket launchers, rocket construction sites and Islamic Jihad positions.

The UN’s special envoy to the region, Tor Wennesland, said: “The launching of rockets must stop immediately, and I call on all parties to avoid further escalation.”

After the first Israeli strikes, a few hundred people gathered outside the morgue of the main Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

Some walked in to identify loved ones and came out later in tears.

“May God take revenge on the spies,” one shouted, referring to Palestinian informants who cooperate with Israel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve troops if needed as the military announced a ‘special situation’ on the home front, with schools closed and limits imposed on activities in communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the border.

Israel closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it prepared for a revenge attack after the arrest on Monday of Bassam al-Saadi, an Islamic Jihad leader, during a a military raid in the occupied West Bank.

A teenage member of the group was killed in a shootout between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Rockets seen in the sky fired by Palestinian militants towards Israel, above Gaza CityRockets fired by Palestinian militants are seen over Gaza City (Adel Hana/AP)

Hamas seized power in the coastal strip from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.

Its most recent war with Israel was in May 2021.

Tensions soared again earlier this year following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a holy site in Jerusalem.

Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005.

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah, speaking to Iran’s Al-Mayadeen TV channel, said “Palestinian resistance fighters must unite to confront this aggression.”

He said there would be “no red lines” and blamed the violence on Israel.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said “the Israeli enemy, which triggered the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and take full responsibility.”

Israel's Iron Dome air defense system launches missiles to intercept rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, over Gaza CityIsrael’s Iron Dome air defense system launches missiles to intercept rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel (Adel Hana/AP)

The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares its ideology.

Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out dozens of deadly attacks over the years, including rocket fire into Israel.

Hamas’ degree of control over Islamic Jihad is unclear, and Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a strict blockade on the territory since Hamas took power.

Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities.

Critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: