Israeli strikes in Gaza kill 9, 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 dozens, according to Palestinian officials. Israel said it was targeting the Islamic Jihad militant group in response to an “imminent threat” following the arrest of another high-ranking militant in the occupied West Bank earlier this week.

The targeted assassination of the high-ranking Palestinian militant seemed likely to draw rocket fire from Gaza, bringing the sides closer to all-out war. Israel and the militant Hamas rulers of Gaza have fought four wars and several smaller battles in the last 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

An explosion was heard in Gaza City, where smoke billowed from the seventh floor of a high-rise building on Friday afternoon. Video released by the army showed attacks that blew up three watchtowers with suspected militants on them.

“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 violence poses an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of November elections in which he hopes to keep the job. He has a background in diplomacy, having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but his security credentials are scant.

Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new battle, just a year after the last war caused widespread devastation. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%.

The Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed the death toll and said a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman were among the dead. He did not say whether the others were militants or civilians.

Islamic Jihad said Taiseer al-Jabari, its commander for northern Gaza, was among those killed. He had succeeded another militant killed in an airstrike in 2019.

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.

An Israeli military spokesman said it launched the strikes in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles. The spokesman, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said al-Jabari was deliberately targeted and that he had been responsible for “multiple attacks” against Israel.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Benny Gantz has approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve troops if needed. And the army 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 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, in a military raid in the West Bank. busy. A teenage member of the group was killed in a shootout between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since the militant group seized power in the coastal strip from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. The most recent was in May 2021, and tensions spiked again earlier this year after a wave of attacks inside Israel, almost 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 “Palestinian resistance fighters have to unite to confront this aggression.” He said “there would be no red lines” 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 Israel’s existence and have carried out dozens of deadly attacks over the years, including firing rockets at Israel. It is unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, 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 developing its military capabilities, while critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment.

Mohammed Abu Selmia, director of Shifa hospital, the largest in Gaza, said hospitals faced shortages after Israel imposed a full closure on Gaza earlier this week. He said there were enough essential supplies and medicines to keep hospitals going for five days in normal times, but with a new round of fighting underway, “they could run out at any time.”

Israel canceled a planned fuel delivery to Gaza’s only power plant, which was expected to shut down early Saturday if fuel did not enter the territory. Even when the plant is running at full capacity, Gazans still experience daily power outages lasting several hours.

Earlier Friday, a couple of hundred Israelis protested near the Gaza Strip on Friday to demand the return of the remains of two Israeli soldiers 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.

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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