World · August 6, 2022

The worst escalation of violence in Gaza in a year since the killing of a prominent militant

Israel hit Gaza with air strikes on Saturday and a Palestinian militant group reacted with a volley of rockets, in the worst escalation of violence in the territory since last year’s war.
Health authorities in the Hamas Islamist-controlled enclave said 10 people were killed by Israeli bombing, including a five-year-old girl, and 79 others were injured. The Israeli army has estimated that its operation killed 15 militants.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the Jewish state was forced to launch “a preventive counter-terrorism operation against an immediate threat” posed by the Islamic Jihad group after days of tensions along the Gaza border.
Israeli forces expanded their offensive against Islamic Jihad on Saturday, announcing the arrest of 19 members of the group in the West Bank as they launched further attacks on militant targets in Gaza.
An army statement states that soldiers and agents of the internal security agency Shin Bet have operated in various locations in the West Bank, “to arrest terrorist agents of Islamic Jihad”.

Out of 20 people detained in the latest search, “19 of them are from Islamic Jihad,” the army said.

Top leaders killed

Israel and Islamic Jihad both confirmed the killing of a militant group leader, Taysir al-Jabari, in a Friday attack on a building in western Gaza city.
Islamic Jihad said the initial Israeli bombing was a “declaration of war” before unleashing a barrage of over 100 rockets at Israel.
Rocket firing and Israeli attacks continued overnight, risking a repeat of an 11-day conflict in May 2021 that devastated Gaza and forced countless Israelis to rush to air raid shelters.
“Israel is not interested in a larger conflict in Gaza, but it will not avoid one,” Lapid said in a nationally televised speech.
Air raid sirens rang throughout the night at several points in southern and central Israel, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.
Border officials urged people to stay close to the shelters, which have also been opened in the commercial capital of Tel Aviv.
The military had initially confirmed at least 70 rocket launches from Gaza, stating that 11 had fallen within the strip, with dozens intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system and that others had landed in open areas.
Warnings of Israeli air strikes and attacks had at least temporarily subsided by 4:30 am (0130 GMT).

Egypt, a historic intermediary between Israel and armed groups in Gaza, was seeking to mediate and could host an Islamic Jihad delegation later on Saturday, Egyptian officials told AFP in Gaza.

A five-year-old girl was killed among the victims, says the Gaza health ministry

Flames spilled from a building in Gaza City after the first round of strikes, while injured Palestinians were evacuated by doctors.
Gaza’s health ministry reported that “a five-year-old girl targeted by the Israeli occupation” was among nine people killed.

Alaa Kaddum, a five-year-old girl, had a pink bow in her hair and a wound on her forehead, as her body had been brought by her father to his funeral.

Palestinians attend the funeral of Alaa Qaddum, a five-year-old boy who was killed in an Israeli airstrike along with other Palestinians.

Palestinians attend the funeral of Alaa Qaddum, a five-year-old boy who was killed in an Israeli airstrike along with other Palestinians. Credit: SOPA / Sipa USA images

Hundreds of mourners gathered in Gaza City for the funeral of Jabari and others killed in the air strikes.

Israeli military spokesman Richard Hecht said “we assume about 15 dead in action” in Gaza, referring to Palestinian fighters.

Israeli tanks were lined up along the border and the army said Thursday it was bolstering its troops.

A history of conflict

Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since it took control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict last May. Islamic Jihad is a separate group, aligned with Hamas, but also acting independently.
A flare-up with Islamic Jihad came in 2019 following Israel’s killing of Baha Abu al-Ata, Jabari’s predecessor.
The sides exchanged fire for several days without Hamas joining the fray.
Hamas’s moves amid the ongoing violence could prove crucial in determining its severity, with the group being pressured by some to remain calm in order to improve the territory’s economic conditions.
Abdullah al-Arayshi, a resident of Gaza City, said the situation was “very tense”. “The country is devastated. We have had enough of wars. Our generation has lost its future,” he told AFP.
Hamas said Israel has “committed a new crime which must pay the price”.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are considered terrorist organizations by much of the West.

United Nations Peace Envoy “Deeply Concerned”

The United Nations envoy for peace in the Middle East, Tor Wennesland, said he was “deeply concerned”, warning that the escalation is “very dangerous”.
The attacks come four days after Israel closed its two border crossings with Gaza and restricted the movement of Israeli civilians living near the border, citing security concerns.
The measures followed the arrest in the occupied West Bank of two senior members of Islamic Jihad, including Bassem al-Saadi, who accuses Israel of orchestrating the recent attacks.
Israel has been conducting a wave of raids inside the West Bank since mid-March in response to deadly attacks on Israeli citizens.
Islamic Jihad did not fire rockets after Saadi’s arrest, but Israel insisted throughout the week that the group was busy seeking revenge.

Since Tuesday, Palestinians, including patients and those with Israeli work permits, have been prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip, while the freight passage has also been closed.