Israel strikes and kills top militia in Gaza, triggering rocket explosion
Israel hit Gaza with air strikes on Friday, killing more than 15 people, including a top fighter, and triggering a barrage of retaliatory rocket fire from the territory.
Israel says it has launched a pre-emptive strike against jihad, killing a top commander of the Palestinian militant group it blames for a recent spate of attacks inside Israel.
Islamic Jihad said the Israeli bombardment was tantamount to a “declaration of war”, hours before it unleashed what it said was the “initial response” of more than 100 rockets towards Israel.
There were no immediate reports of casualties inside Israel, as officials in the country’s commercial capital Tel Aviv said they were opening the city’s bomb shelters.
But in Gaza, a child was among those killed, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which is run by the Islamist movement Hamas.
Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since taking control of Gaza in 2007, most recently in May last year. Islamic Jihad is a separate group, but affiliated with Hamas.
Israeli air strikes continued late Friday, targeting what the military describes as militia targets across territory it has blockaded since Hamas took over.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the strikes were a “precise counterterrorism operation against an immediate threat”.
– Five-year-old girl –
Flames broke out from a building in Gaza City after the first air strike, while injured Palestinians were evacuated by medical staff.
The Gaza Health Ministry said “a 5-year-old girl, targeted by Israel” was among the nine killed. The ministry said 55 more Palestinians were injured.
Five-year-old Alaa Kaddum had a pink bow in her hair and a wound on her forehead, when her body was carried by her father to the funeral.
Islamic Jihad said several members of its wing were among the dead, including “the great warrior Taysir al-Jabari ‘Abu Mahmoud’, commander of the Al-Quds Brigade in the southern region. north of the Gaza Strip.”
Hundreds of mourners gathered in Gaza City for the funeral of Jabari and others killed in the airstrikes.
Israeli military spokesman Richard Hecht said “we are assuming about 15 people were killed in action” in Gaza, referring to Palestinian militants.
Israeli tanks have lined up along the border and the military said on Thursday that it is increasing its troops.
US Ambassador Tom Nides said Washington was “convinced that Israel has the right to defend itself”.
“We are engaging with the various parties and urge all parties to remain calm,” he wrote on Twitter.
United Nations Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “deeply concerned” and warned that escalation was “very dangerous”.
– ‘Bargain’ –
The airstrikes come four days after Israel closed two border crossings with Gaza and restricted the movement of Israeli civilians living near the border, citing security concerns.
These measures follow the arrest of two senior members of the jihadist occupation in the West Bank, which has a strong presence in Gaza. The militant group did not launch attacks on Israeli territory after the arrest.
Gaza City resident Abdullah al-Arayshi said the situation was “very tense”. “The country is devastated. We’ve been through enough wars. Our generation has lost its future,” he told AFP.
Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, said Israel had “committed a new crime for which it must pay”.
“The resistance in all its military weapons and factions is united in this struggle and will speak loudly… All fronts must open fire on the enemy,” it said in a statement. declare.
Lapid, who has been meeting with his security chiefs throughout the day, said: “Anyone trying to harm Israel should know – we’ll find you.”
Islamic Jihad is blacklisted by the European Union and the United States as a terrorist organization.
The office of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said Israel’s military action had led to a “dangerous escalation” and called on the international community to curb Israel’s “aggression”.
The Israeli military has banned mass gatherings in communities 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the Gaza border until Saturday night.
The measure comes after four days of road closures and other restrictions in the border area.
Palestinians including patients and Israeli work permit holders have been prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip since Tuesday, while freight traffic has also been closed.
Gaza’s only power plant is at risk of nearing shutdown due to a lack of fuel supplies to Israel, its manager warned on Thursday.
The closure of the border area this week follows a raid by security forces in Jenin County, the north West Coast.
Israeli forces arrested Bassem al-Saadi and another senior member of the jihadist organization. A 17-year-old member of the group was shot dead by Israeli troops during the raid.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from an aggregated feed.)