GAZA CITY: A series of Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday killed three Islamic Jihad group leaders and 12 other people, with both sides bracing for an escalation.
Islamic Jihad vowed to “avenge” the deaths in a pre-dawn raid involving some 40 Israeli aircraft, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning “our enemies” to not “mess with us”.
The first Israeli strike hit targets in the crowded coastal territory for nearly two hours from just after 2am (2300 GMT Monday).
The Gaza health ministry said four children were among those killed and 20 people were wounded, with some in critical condition in the attacks which left buildings ablaze and reduced others to rubble.
Islamic Jihad vows to ‘avenge’ deaths; Netanyahu warns ‘enemies’ not to ‘mess with us’
The Israeli army said it had targeted three leaders of Islamic Jihad, which it considers a terrorist group, as well as its “weapon manufacturing sites”.
Army spokesman Daniel Hagari expressed regret over the death of “uninvolved” people but said they were hard to avoid as “we are working against terrorists that conduct their activities day and night among civilians.”
Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of three senior members — Jihad Ghannam, Khalil al-Bahtini and Tareq Ezzedine — before their bodies were later carried through the streets in mass funeral processions.
A separate air strike in the late afternoon on the city of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza killed two men in a car, the health ministry said.
The Israeli military said they were members of Islamic Jihad “taking anti-tank guided missiles by car to a launch pad” ahead of a cross-border attack.
Following the morning attack, Islamic Jihad vowed to retaliate, with spokesman Daoud Shehab warning that “the resistance considers that all cities and settlements in the Zionist (Israeli) depths will be under its fire”.
‘Don’t mess with us’
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, whose Islamist movement rules Gaza, said “assassinating the leadership” would bring “greater resistance”.
In remarks ahead of a security cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said he had ordered the targeting of the Islamic Jihad leaders following last week’s rocket fire.
“Whoever harms us, will be harmed by us, forcefully,” he said, “at the time and place we choose”. “We are in the midst of a battle and prepared for any scenario. My suggestion to our enemies is — don’t mess with us”. The Israeli military warned residents within 40 kilometres (25 miles) of the Gaza border to stay near bomb shelters until Wednesday evening.
Moscow’s diplomatic mission to the Palestinians said one of the dead was a Russian citizen, a doctor who was killed alongside his wife and one of his children.
Israel last week traded air strikes on Gaza for rocket fire from the enclave, an exchange sparked by the death in Israeli custody of a Palestinian hunger striker with ties to Islamic Jihad, which ended with an Egypt-brokered truce.
Islamic Jihad charged on Tuesday that Israel had “scorned all the initiatives of mediators” and vowed it would “avenge the leaders” killed in the latest air strikes.
The group said Ghannam was secretary of the Al-Quds Brigades military council, Bahtini the military commander in northern Gaza, and Ezzedine a military leader in the West Bank who operated from Gaza.
The Israeli military described Ghannan as “one of the most senior members” of Islamic Jihad who had coordinated weapons and money transfers with Hamas.
Bahtini was “responsible for the rocket fire toward Israel in the past month”, the army said.
And Ezzedine, who was released from Israeli detention in a 2011 prisoner exchange, was involved in attempts to set up abilities to fire rockets from the occupied West Bank into Israel, according to Hagari, the military spokesman.
UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “deeply alarmed” by the latest violence and described the killing of civilians as “unacceptable”.
Jordan said it was taking steps to “immediately stop this dangerous escalation”.
Israel told a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva it was justified in carrying out what it labelled Operation Shield and Arrow, which it said followed “months of attacks against Israeli citizens”.
“Israel directs these attacks only against military targets and takes all feasible precautions to mitigate harm to civilians,” said Avishai Kaplan, with the military’s International Law Department.
Israel and Gaza militants have fought multiple wars since Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007.
Following Tuesday’s air strikes, Egypt stated its “total rejection of such attacks” which it said “inflame the situation in a way that could get out of control in the occupied Palestinian territories”. The Gaza deaths bring to 123 the number of Palestinians killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so far this year.
Nineteen Israelis, one Ukrainian and one Italian have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP count based on official sources from the two sides.
Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2023