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Israel, Gaza militants exchange fire after deadly attacksExBulletin

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Rockets fired by Palestinian militants at Israel, in Gaza City, Friday, August 5, 2022. Palestinian officials say Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have killed at least 10 people, including a senior militant, and wounded 55. others.

Fatima Shbair/AP


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Fatima Shbair/AP


Rockets fired by Palestinian militants at Israel, in Gaza City, Friday, August 5, 2022. Palestinian officials say Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have killed at least 10 people, including a senior militant, and wounded 55. others.

Fatima Shbair/AP

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip Israeli jets struck militant targets in Gaza early Saturday as rockets rained down on southern Israel, hours after a wave of Israeli airstrikes in the coastal enclave killed at least 11 people, including a senior militant and a 5-year-old girl. .

Fighting that began Friday with Israel’s dramatic targeted killing of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander continued through the night, bringing the sides closer to an all-out war.

But the territory’s Hamas rulers appeared to stay out of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat contained for now. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the past 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

The latest round of violence between Israel and Gaza was sparked by the arrest this week of a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, part of a month-long Israeli military operation in the territory. Citing a security threat, Israel then closed roads around the Gaza Strip and on Friday killed the militant leader in a targeted strike.

An explosion was heard in Gaza City, where smoke rose from the seventh floor of a high-rise building. Video released by the Israeli military showed the attacks blowing up three guard towers with suspected militants in them.

In a nationally televised address on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country launched the attacks based on “concrete threats”.

“This government has a policy of zero tolerance for any attempted attack of any kind from Gaza towards Israeli territory,” Lapid said. “Israel will not sit idly by when there are those who try to harm its civilians.”

“Israel is not interested in a wider conflict in Gaza, but it will not shy away from one either.” he added.

The violence is an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of interim prime minister ahead of elections in November, when he hopes to retain the post.

Lapid, a former centrist TV presenter and author, has experience in diplomacy having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has scant security credentials. A conflict with Gaza could burnish his standing and give him a boost as he faces off against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country through three of its four wars with Hamas.

Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new battle just a year after the last war caused widespread destruction. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman were among those killed in Gaza, without distinguishing between civilian and militant casualties. The Israeli military said early estimates were that about 15 fighters were killed. Dozens were injured.

Islamic Jihad said Taiseer al-Jabari, its commander for northern Gaza, was among the dead. It had followed another militant killed in an airstrike in 2019. This triggered a heavy round of fighting between Israel and the militant group.

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles. The spokesman, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said al-Jabari had been deliberately targeted and had been responsible for “numerous attacks” on Israel.

Hundreds marched in a funeral procession for him and others who were killed, with many mourners waving the flags of Palestine and Islamic Jihad and calling for revenge.

Israeli media showed the skies over southern and central Israel lit up with rockets and interceptors from Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. It was not immediately clear how many rockets were fired and there were no immediate reports of Israeli casualties.

During the night, Israel struck rocket launchers, missile facilities and Islamic Jihad positions. The military also said it arrested 19 Islamic Jihad militants in the West Bank.

The UN’s special envoy for the region, Tor Wennesland, said: “The missile launch must stop immediately and I call on all parties to avoid further escalation.”

After the initial Israeli strikes, several hundred people gathered outside the morgue in Gaza City’s main Shifa hospital. Some came in to identify loved ones and came out later in tears.

“God take revenge on the spies,” shouted one, referring to Palestinian informants who collaborate with Israel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve soldiers if necessary, while the army announced a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and restrictions imposed on activities in communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the border.

Israel closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it prepared for a retaliatory strike after Monday’s arrest of Bassam al-Saadi, an Islamic Jihad leader, in a military raid in the occupied West Bank. A teenage member of the group was killed in a gun battle between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Hamas seized power in the coastal strip from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Its most recent war with Israel was in May 2021. Tensions rose again earlier this year after a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions in a holy place in Jerusalem. Israel withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005.

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah, speaking to Iran’s Al-Mayadeen television network, said “Palestinian resistance fighters must stand together to face this aggression.” He said there would be no “red lines” and blamed Israel for the violence.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that “the Israeli enemy, which started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it.”

The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas, but largely shares its ideology. Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out a series of deadly attacks over the years, including firing rockets into Israel. It is unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks coming from Gaza.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a strict blockade on the territory since the Hamas takeover. Israel says the shutdown is necessary to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities. Critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment.

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