Israel attacks Gaza amid rising tensions with militants

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip –

Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes in Gaza on Friday that it said targeted the Islamic Jihad militant group amid days of heightened tensions following the arrest of a senior member of the group in the occupied West Bank earlier this week.

It was not immediately clear what Israel was targeting or if anyone had been killed or injured, but the strikes threatened to spark another war in the territory, which is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas and is home to some 2 million Palestinians.

An explosion could be heard in Gaza City, where smoke billowed from the seventh floor of a high-rise building on Friday afternoon.

The Israeli army declared a “special situation” on the home front and said it was attacking Islamic Jihad in an operation called “Breaking Dawn.”

Israel closed the roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it prepared for a revenge attack after the arrest of the Islamic Jihad leader in the occupied West Bank on Monday. A teenage member of the group was killed in a shootout between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several minor skirmishes in the 15 years since the militant group seized power in the coastal strip from rival Palestinian forces. The most recent war was in May 2021, and tensions spiked again earlier this year following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank, and tensions at a Jerusalem holy site.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited communities near Gaza on Friday and said authorities were preparing “actions that will remove the threat from this region,” without elaborating.

“We will operate with internal resilience and external strength to restore routine life in southern Israel,” he said. “We do not seek conflict, but we will not hesitate to defend our citizens, if necessary.”

Ahmed Mudalal, an Islamic Jihad official in Gaza, said the group had made demands of Israel through Egyptian mediators, including the release of the detained militant and another prisoner, an end to raids in the West Bank and the lifting of the blockade on Israel. Loop. He said they have not yet received a response.

Earlier Friday, a couple of hundred Israelis protested near the Gaza Strip on Friday to demand the return of a captive and the remains of two Israeli soldiers being held by Hamas.

The protesters were led by the family of Hadar Goldin, who along with Oron Shaul was killed in the 2014 Gaza war. Hamas still holds his remains, as well as those of two Israeli civilians who strayed into Gaza and are believed to be suffering from a mental illness, hoping to exchange them for some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Protesters passed through two police checkpoints on a heavily guarded highway near the Gaza border before stopping at a third.

They held a large banner demanding the return of the soldiers’ remains, as well as that of Avraham Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent in his 20s or 30s. Mengistu’s family participated in the protest.

In June, Hamas released a rare video showing another captive, Hisham al-Sayid, an Arab citizen of Israel, in a hospital bed wearing an oxygen mask and an IV drip. He said his health has deteriorated recently. Reporters covering the protest did not hear any mention of al-Sayid.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade on the territory during all that time. Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent Hamas from developing its military capabilities, while critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

Israel says there can be no major moves to lift the blockade until the remains of the captive soldiers and civilians are released. Israel and Hamas have held numerous rounds of Egyptian-mediated talks on a possible swap.


Associated Press reporter Ariel Schalit at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, Israel, contributed to this report.

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