Israeli Strike in Gaza Kills 7, Including Senior Militants
Israeli Strike in Gaza Kills 7, Including Senior Militants

Israeli Strike in Gaza Kills 7, Including Senior Militants

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel launched a wave of airstrikes in Gaza on Friday, killing at least seven people, including a senior militant, and wounding 40 others, according to Palestinian officials. Israel says it is targeting the Islamic Jihad militant group amid days of heightened tension following the arrest of a senior militant in the occupied West Bank earlier this week.

The attack risks sparking another war in the region, which is ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas and is home to some 2 million Palestinians. The killing of a senior militant is likely to be met with rocket fire from Gaza, pushing the region closer to all-out war.

An explosion was heard in Gaza City, where smoke billowed from the seventh floor of a tall building on Friday afternoon.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said seven people were killed, including a 5-year-old girl, and at least 40 people were injured. Islamic Jihad said a Gaza commander, Taiseer al-Jabari, was among those killed.

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

Read more: The Gaza Strip is only 25 miles long. Here’s How It Became the Center of the Conflict of the Decade

Israel closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it prepares for revenge attacks 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 shootout between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants.

Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several skirmishes in the 15 years since the militant group seized control of the coastal strip from rival Palestinian forces. The most recent war took place in May 2021, and tensions rose again earlier this year following a wave of attacks in Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at the holy site of Jerusalem.

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah, speaking to Iran’s al-Mayadeen TV network, said “we are starting the fight, and the Palestinian resistance fighters must stand together to face this aggression.” He said there would be no “red lines” in confrontation and blamed the violence on Israel.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said “the enemy of Israel, which is starting the escalation against Gaza and committing new crimes, must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it.”

Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but mostly shares its ideology. Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out a number of deadly attacks over the years, including the firing of rockets into southern Israel. It is not clear 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 threats from this territory,” without elaborating.

“We will operate with internal resilience and external force 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 along with Oron Shaul died in the 2014 Gaza war. Hamas is still holding their bodies, as well as two Israeli civilians who had strayed into Gaza and are believed to be mentally ill, hoping to exchange them for some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners who had fled to Gaza. detained by Israel.

Protesters broke through two police checkpoints on a road near the heavily fortified Gaza border before stopping at a third post.

Read more: Column: Israel-Palestine is a State of Permanent Conflict punctuated by Periodic Massacres. Only the Audience World Can Stop It

They held large posters demanding the return of the soldiers’ bodies 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.

In June, Hamas released a rare video showing another captive, Hisham al-Sayid, an Arab Israeli, in a hospital bed wearing an oxygen mask and IV. It said his health had recently deteriorated. Journalists covering the protests did not hear any mention of al-Sayid.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade of the territory throughout that time. Israel says the shutdown is necessary to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities, while critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians.

Israel says there will be no major steps to lift the blockade until the remaining soldiers and civilians detained are released. Israel and Hamas have held many rounds of Egyptian-mediated talks about possible exchanges.

Associated Press reporters Ariel Schalit in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, Israel and Joseph Krauss in Ottawa, Ontario contributed to this report.

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