Israeli Strikes on Gaza Kill 7, Including Senior Militant

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes in Gaza on Friday, killing at least seven people, including a senior militant, and wounding another 40, according to Palestinian officials. Israel claimed it was attacking the Islamic Jihad militant organization amid increasing tensions after the detention of a top militant from the occupied West Bank this week.

These strikes could spark yet another conflict in the region, which is controlled by Hamas Islamic militant group Hamas. The territory is home to approximately 2 million Palestinians. Rocket fire from Gaza would likely meet the assassination attempt on a top militant, bringing the area closer to war.

Gaza City heard a loud blast Friday afternoon as smoke from a seventh-floor building emitted its contents.

Seven people, including a five-year-old girl were among those killed by the Palestinian Health Ministry. At least 40 more were hurt. Islamic Jihad claimed that Taiseer Al-Jabari (a commander in Gaza) was among the victims.

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

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Israel closed Gaza’s roads earlier in the week, and added reinforcements as it prepared for revenge after Monday’s arrest of an Islamic Jihad leader from the occupied West Bank. The gun battle between Israeli soldiers, Palestinian militants resulted in the death of a teenager member.

In the fifteen years that Israel and Hamas have ruled the coast strip, the militant group has fought four wars as well as several small skirmishes. Tensions rose again in 2018 after a series of Israeli attacks, near daily military operations in West Bank, tensions at the holy shrine in Jerusalem, and tensions in Gaza.

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah, speaking to the al-Mayadeen TV network from Iran, said “we are starting the fight, and the fighters of the Palestinian resistance have to stand together 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 “the Israeli enemy, who started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it.”

While Islamic Jihad might be less powerful than Hamas’, its ideology is largely the same. Both groups are opposed to Israel’s existence and have carried out scores of deadly attacks over the years, including the firing of rockets into southern Israel. It’s 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 earlier on Friday, saying authorities were preparing “actions that will remove the threat from this region,” without elaborating.

“We will operate with internal resilience and external strength in order to restore routine life in Israel’s south,” he said, “We do not seek conflict, yet we will not hesitate to defend our citizens, if required.”

A few hundred Israelis marched to the Gaza Strip earlier Friday in protest of the Hamas’ capture of an Israeli soldier and his remains.

Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, both of whom were also killed in 2014’s Gaza war, led protesters. Hamas holds the remains of their family members, two Israeli civilians who fled Gaza to seek asylum, and is holding them indefinitely.

Protesters drove past two checkpoints at the border of Gaza, before reaching a third.

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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 20s or early 30s. Mengistu’s family took part in the protest.

Hamas published a rare clip in June showing Hisham al-Sayid (an Arab citizen of Israel) being held captive in an ICU bed. According to Hamas, his health had recently declined. Reporters who covered the demonstration did not see any mention of al Sayid.

Egypt and Israel have maintained an unwavering blockade of the territories for the past 30 years. Israel says the closure is needed to prevent Hamas from building up 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 toward lifting the blockade until the soldiers’ remains and captive civilians are released. Israel and Hamas held many rounds of Egyptian-mediated negotiations on possible swaps.

Ariel Schalit (Associated Press) in Kibbutz Yid Mordechai in Israel contributed to this article. Joseph Krauss from Ottawa, Ontario also contributed.

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