GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes in Gaza on Friday, killing at least seven people, including a senior insurgent, and wounding 40 others, according to Palestinian officials. Israel said it was targeting the Islamic Jihad group amid days of heightened tensions following the arrest of a senior fighter in the occupied West Bank earlier this week.
The strikes risk igniting a new war in the territory, which is ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas and is home to about 2 million Palestinians. The killing of a senior fighter is likely to be met with rocket fire from Gaza, pushing the region closer to all-out war.
An explosion could be heard in Gaza City, where smoke poured from the seventh floor of a high-rise on Friday afternoon.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health said seven people were killed, including a 5-year-old girl, and at least 40 were injured. Islamic Jihad said Gaza commander Taysir al-Jabari was among the dead.
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Israel’s military said it was targeting Islamic Jihad in Operation Dawn. He also declared a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and restrictions on other activities in communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the border.
Israel closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it prepared for a revenge attack following the arrest of the leader of Islamic Jihad in the occupied West Bank on Monday. A teenager from the group was killed in a firefight between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller clashes in the 15 years since the militant group seized power in the coastal strip from rival Palestinian forces. The last war was in May 2021, and tensions rose again earlier this year after a wave of attacks in Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at Jerusalem’s hot-spot shrine.
Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nahalah, speaking to Iran’s al-Mayadeen television network, said “we are starting the battle and the Palestinian resistance fighters must stand together to face this aggression.” He said there would be no “red lines” in the confrontation and blamed Israel for the violence.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said “the Israeli enemy who started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it.”
Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas, but largely shares its ideology. Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out dozens of deadly attacks over the years, including firing rockets into southern Israel. It is unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks coming from Gaza.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited communities near Gaza earlier on Friday, saying authorities were preparing “actions that will remove the threat from this region,” without elaborating.
“We will act with internal resilience and external strength to restore routine life in southern Israel,” he said, “We do not seek conflict, but we will not hesitate to protect our citizens if necessary.”
Earlier on 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 was killed in the Gaza war in 2014. Hamas still holds their remains, as well as two Israeli civilians who strayed into Gaza and are believed to be mentally ill sick, hoping to exchange them for some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Protesters passed through two police checkpoints on a road near the heavily guarded border with Gaza before stopping at a third.
They held a large sign demanding the return of the soldiers’ remains, as well as that of Avraham Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent in his late 20s or early 30s. Mengistu’s family participated in the protest.
In June, Hamas released a rare video showing another captive, Hisham al-Said, an Arab citizen of Israel, in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask and an IV. He said his health had recently deteriorated. Reporters covering the protest heard no mention of Al Said.
All this time, Israel and Egypt maintained a tight blockade over the territory. Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent Hamas from building up its military capacity, while critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinian residents.
Israel says there can be no major steps towards lifting the blockade until the remains of the soldiers and captured civilians are released. Israel and Hamas have held multiple rounds of talks, brokered by Egypt, about a possible swap.
Associated Press reporters Ariel Shalit in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, Israel and Joseph Krauss in Ottawa, Ontario contributed to this report.
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