Israeli strikes in Gaza kill senior militant operative and at least 9 others

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JERUSALEM — The Israeli military launched airstrikes on targets inside Gaza on Friday that killed an Islamist militant group leader and at least nine others, sparking rocket attacks on Israeli communities.

The attacks followed days of threats from militants in Gaza following the arrest of an Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank earlier in the week, and threatened a return to open warfare just a year after hundreds of people been killed in fighting between Israel and fighters in the enclave.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said at least 10 people were killed and 75 injured in two initial strikes, one in Gaza City and the other in Khan Younis in southern Gaza. Video posted to social media showed extensive damage to at least one multi-story building.

Among those killed was Taysir al-Jabari, a senior Islamic Jihad leader, according to a Palestinian Islamic Jihad statement. A 5-year-old girl was also killed, the ministry said.

Israeli officials said they had no information on reports that a child was among the victims.

Shortly after the strikes, the Israel Defense Forces said it was attacking Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza in an operation dubbed “Breaking Dawn”. The first strikes reportedly targeted leaders of the al-Quds brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, according to Palestinian media.

An Israeli military spokesman said its planes struck after detecting threatening movements of militant forces and equipment, including anti-tank units.

Militants were “flexing and moving very, very close to the border,” Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said. “We took the initiative and we are not finished yet.”

“We assume that there will probably be rocket attacks in the center of the country,” Hecht said. The Israeli army said it was calling up 25,000 reserve troops to bolster its forces in the Southern Command near Gaza.

After Friday’s action, the military warned residents within 80 km of Gaza, including Tel Aviv, to be vigilant for rocket fire and issued an emergency alert that will last at least until to Saturday evening.

Shortly before 9 p.m., anti-aircraft sirens began to sound in several communities in central and southern Israel. No injuries were immediately reported, according to Israeli emergency services. Israel said it had prepared its Iron Dome air defense system in preparation.

“In an initial response to the assassination of our leader, Taysir al-Jabari and his comrades, our fighters fired dozens of missiles at enemy towns,” Palestinian Islamic Jihad said in a statement.

The Israeli military said it had launched additional strikes inside Gaza, including at rocket launch sites, raising the prospect of a continuing cycle of attacks.

Tor Wennesland, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, lamented the eruption of hostilities, saying it threatened to undo recent progress in Gaza’s recovery from the 2021 fighting.

“The UN is fully engaged with all parties concerned to try to avert a new conflict that would have devastating consequences, primarily for civilians,” Wennesland said in a statement. “The responsibility lies with the parties to prevent this from happening.”

Gaza is ruled by the militant group Hamas, generally seen as a rival to Islamic Jihad. There was no indication that Hamas had launched its own attacks, but the group condemned Israel’s airstrikes. “The resistance, with all its arms and military factions, is united in this battle and will speak its word with all its might,” Hamas said in a statement. “It is no longer possible to accept the continuation of this situation as it is.”

The Israeli army sealed checkpoints inside and outside Gaza, closed roads and restricted movement in nearby Israeli communities as tensions soared in recent days. The move sparked complaints from citizens that they were being held hostage to threats from Gaza and sparked calls from Israeli radicals for Israel to act inside the enclave.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who took power after Israel’s politically diverse coalition collapsed amid infighting in early July, faces a new election in November and came under pressure to take a strong hand with militants in Gaza.

“The Israeli government will not allow terrorist organizations from the Gaza Strip to set the agenda in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and threaten the citizens of the State of Israel. Anyone who tries to harm Israel should know: we will find you,” Lapid said in a statement after the strikes.

“To our enemies, and especially to the leaders of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, I would like to stress that your time is up,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Friday during a visit to the region.

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Friday’s military action came after months of growing tension between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank. A series of attacks by Palestinian perpetrators using automatic weapons, knives and a vehicle killed 19 people in Israel in the spring. In an assault on Israel’s Independence Day, two Palestinian men reportedly bludgeoned three men to death with an ax in the ultra-Orthodox town of Elad.

Israeli forces, in response, carried out near-night raids in the West Bank, arresting dozens of people in sometimes violent clashes that left many suspected militants and a few apparent bystanders dead. It was during one of these operations that the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shotpresumably by an Israeli soldier, according to Palestinian Authority investigations, The Washington Post and several international media.

On Tuesday, Israeli forces arrested Bassam al-Saadi, an Islamic Jihad leader, after an exchange of fire in the West Bank city of Jenin. A 17-year-old Palestinian was killed in the exchange. Israel said Saadi, 61, was coordinating militant activities in an area known for armed resistance. Footage of Saadi’s arrest, which shows the 61-year-old being dragged to the ground by Israeli security forces, has been widely shared on social media.

In addition to regular raids, the Israeli Defense Ministry has continued construction of the separation wall along the line separating the northern West Bank from Israel in an effort to thwart further attacks.

Israel hopes Hamas, which has been talking to Egyptian mediators to ease tensions, will show restraint in an operation that targets a rival militant group, some analysts say.

“Our intention is clear, for us and for Hamas,” said Yaakov Amidror, a retired general and former head of Israel’s National Security Council. “If Hamas intervenes, it will take the operation to another level.”

Friday’s action marks the most extensive military engagements between the two sides since the 11-day air war a year ago in which more than 250 Palestinians and 13 people inside Israel were killed.

Balousha reported from Gaza City. Rubin reported from Tel Aviv.

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