Extra

Militants in Gaza and Israel exchange fire after deadly attacks

Written by Javed Iqbal

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israeli jets pounded militant targets in Gaza on Saturday and rocket barrages into southern Israel continued, raising fears of an escalation after a wave of Israeli airstrikes on the coastal enclave killed at least 12 people, including a senior militant and a 5-year-old girl.

The fighting began with Israel killing a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in an attack on Friday. Gaza’s Hamas rulers have so far appeared to remain on the sidelines of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat contained for now. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the past 15 years at a staggering cost to the area’s 2 million Palestinian inhabitants.

Shortly before noon on Saturday, Israeli warplanes stepped up airstrikes. After warning residents in phone calls, fighter jets dropped two bombs on an Islamic Jihad member’s house in a residential area of ​​Gaza City, flattening the two-story structure and severely damaging surrounding homes. Women and children rushed out of the area and there were no injuries.

“Warned us? They warned us with rockets and we fled without taking anything,” said Huda Shamalakh, who lived next door. She said 15 people lived in the targeted home.

Another airstrike hit an Islamic Jihad site nearby. Gaza militants continued to fire rounds of rockets into southern Israel about every half hour, although there were no reports of casualties.

The lone power plant in Gaza shut down at midday on Saturday due to a lack of fuel as Israel has kept its crossing points to Gaza closed since Tuesday. The shutdown deepens the densely packed area’s chronic power crisis amid the summer heat. With the new disruption, Gazans can only get 4 hours of electricity a day, increasing their dependence on private generators.

The latest round of violence between Israel and Gaza was sparked by the arrest this week of a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, part of a month-long Israeli military operation in the territory. Citing a security threat, Israel then sealed off roads around the Gaza Strip and on Friday killed Islamic Jihad’s northern Gaza commander, Taiseer al-Jabari, in a targeted strike.

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

“This government has a zero-tolerance policy towards any attempted attack – of any kind – from Gaza against Israeli territory,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a televised address on Friday. “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 back down from one either.” he added.

The violence represents an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of interim prime minister ahead of the November election, where he hopes to retain the post.

Lapid, a centrist former TV host and author, has experience in diplomacy after serving as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has thin security credentials. A conflict with Gaza could burnish his standing and give him a boost when he faces former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country during three of its four wars with Hamas.

Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to engage in another battle, barely a year after the last war caused widespread destruction. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment at around 50%.

Egypt stepped up efforts to prevent escalation, communicating with Israel, the Palestinians and the United States to prevent Hamas from joining the fighting, an Egyptian intelligence official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman were among 12 killed in Gaza, along with more than 80 wounded. It did not distinguish between civilians and militants. The Israeli military said early estimates were that about 15 fighters were killed.

Hundreds marched in a funeral procession for Jihad commander al-Jabari and others who were killed, with many mourners waving Palestinian and Islamic Jihad flags and calling for revenge. Al-Jabari had followed another militant killed in an airstrike in 2019which then also set in motion a round of fierce battles.

During the night, Israeli media showed the sky over southern and central Israel lighting up with rockets and interceptions from Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. There were no immediate reports of casualties on the Israeli side. Israel said its overnight strikes in Gaza hit rocket launchers, rocket construction sites and Islamic Jihad positions. It also arrested 19 Islamic Jihad militants in the West Bank, the military said.

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

Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve troops if necessary, while the military announced a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and restrictions on activities in communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the border.

Israel earlier this week closed roads around Gaza and sent reinforcements to the border as it prepared for a revenge attack following Monday’s arrest of Bassam al-Saadi, a leader of Islamic Jihad, in a military raid in the occupied West Bank. A teenage member of the group was killed in a gun battle between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Hamas seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew from the coastal strip. Its most recent war with Israel was in May 2021. Tensions rose again earlier this year following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a flashpoint in Jerusalem’s holy site.

Iran-backed Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares his ideology. Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out dozens of deadly attacks over the years, including firing rockets into 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 tight blockade of 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.

___

Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.

About the author

Javed Iqbal

Leave a Comment