Israeli attacks on Gaza kill 8, including senior militant

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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 another 40, according to Palestinian officials. Israel said it targeted 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 strikes threaten to spark another war in the area ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas and home to about 2 million Palestinians. The assassination of a high-ranking militant would likely be met with rocket fire from Gaza, bringing the region closer to all-out war.

An explosion was heard in Gaza City, where smoke poured from the seventh floor of a high-rise building 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. damage Israel should know: we will find you.”

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, Taiser al-Jabari, was among the dead.

Several hundred people gathered outside the morgue at Shifa’s main hospital in Gaza City. Some came in to identify loved ones, but came out in tears. One shouted, “May God take vengeance on spies”, referring to Palestinian informants collaborating with Israel.

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

Israel had closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it braced itself for a revenge attack following the arrest of the Islamic Jihad leader in the occupied West Bank on Monday. A teenage member of the group was killed in a firefight 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 control of the coastal strip from rival Palestinian forces. The most recent war was in May 2021, and tensions rose again earlier this year after a spate of attacks in Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a holy site in Jerusalem.

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah said in a conversation with Iran’s al-Mayadeen TV network: “We are starting the battle, and the fighters of the Palestinian resistance must stand together to face this aggression.” to offer.” He said there would be “no red lines” in the confrontation and blamed Israel for the violence.

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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 take 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 into southern Israel. It is unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks from Gaza.

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

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

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

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

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The protesters forced their way through two police checkpoints on a road near the heavily-guarded Gaza border before stopping at a third.

They held a large sign demanding the return of the soldiers’ remains, as well as Avraham Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent in his late twenties or early thirties. Mengistu’s family took part in the protest.

In June, Hamas released a rare video showing another detainee, Hisham al-Sayid, an Arab citizen of Israel, in a hospital bed wearing an oxygen mask and an IV. He said his health has deteriorated recently. Reporters covering the protest heard nothing about al-Sayid.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over the area all along. Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent Hamas from building its military capabilities, while critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

Israel says no major steps can be taken to lift the blockade until the remains of the soldiers and captured civilians are released. Israel and Hamas have held numerous rounds of Egypt-mediated talks over a possible trade.

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Krauss reported from Ottawa, Ontario. The Switzerland Times reporter Ariel Schalit in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, Israel contributed to this report.

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