Israeli strikes in Gaza kill 8, including senior militant

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip –

Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes in Gaza on Friday, killing at least eight people, including a senior militant, and wounding 40 others, according to Palestinian officials. Israel said it was targeting the Islamic Jihad militant group amid days of heightened tensions following the arrest of a senior militant in the occupied West Bank earlier this week.

The attacks risk starting another war in the territory, which is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas and is home to some 2 million Palestinians. The killing of a high-ranking militant would likely be met with rocket fire from Gaza, bringing the region closer to all-out war.

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 government will not allow terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to set the agenda in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and threaten the citizens of the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement. “Anyone who tries to harm Israel should know: We will find them.”

The Palestinian Health Ministry said eight people were killed, including a 5-year-old girl, and at least 40 were injured. Islamic Jihad said a Gaza commander, Taiseer al-Jabari, was among the dead.

A few hundred people gathered outside the morgue of Gaza City’s main Shifa hospital. Some went in to identify their loved ones, only to come out crying. One shouted, “May God take revenge on the spies,” referring to Palestinian informers who cooperate with Israel.

The Israeli army said it was targeting Islamic Jihad in an operation called “Breaking Dawn.” He also announced a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and limits on other activities in communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the border.

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.

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah, speaking to al-Mayadeen television from Iran, said “we are starting the fight, and the Palestinian resistance fighters have to unite to confront this aggression.” He said there would be no “red lines” in the confrontation and blamed the violence on Israel.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that “the Israeli enemy, who started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it.”

Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares its ideology. Both groups oppose the existence of Israel and have carried out dozens of deadly attacks over the years, including firing rockets at southern Israel. It is unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.

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.”

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.


Krauss reported from Ottawa, Ontario. Associated Press reporter Ariel Schalit at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, Israel, contributed to this report.

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