Spectre of new summer war as Israeli airstrikes ‘kill 10’ in Gaza Strip
Israeli warplanes struck numerous sites in the Gaza Strip yesterday in what it claimed to be a preemptive strike against Palestinian factions that it accused of planning rocket attacks at targets inside Israel.
Palestinian health officials claimed that up to 10 people were killed in an initial barrage, including the commander of Islamic Jihad, Tayseer
Jabari, in the north of the strip. An eight-year-old girl also died.
Both Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, vowed to retaliate, raising the spectre of another summer war between both sides. If hostilities escalate, it would mark the fourth war in Gaza since 2008. Several smaller skirmishes have also been fought. Islamic Jihad appeared ready to increase the stakes, pledging a no-holds-barred confrontation and saying: “Tel Aviv will taste rockets”.
Israel claimed to have killed 10 Islamic Jihad militants in the opening stages of its assault. It urged residents near the Gaza border to move to bomb shelters.
Earlier in the week, Israeli forces had cleared areas near the strip in preparation for what it feared could be retaliation from Islamic Jihad in Gaza for the capture of the group’s commander in the West Bank, Bassam al-Saadi in a raid in Jenin on Monday.
Islamic Jihad had not responded to the arrest of al-Saadi, one of the organisation’s most senior figures and had instead made demands for proof that he had not been mistreated, as well as demanding the release of several detained militants and a lifting of the blockade of Gaza.
Israeli military leaders named the surprise operation Breaking Dawn, suggesting they had planned for a prolonged operation, rather than a surgical strike. Earlier, the Israeli defence minister, Benny Gantz, had visited communities along the frontier alluding to the offensive to come. “We are taking actions to remove the threat from this region,” he said.
Hamas has ruled Gaza since a brief war with its rival faction Fatah in 2007 and continues to hold sway over many aspects of life in the strip. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have both fired rockets into southern and central Israel during rounds of fighting. Israeli warplanes meanwhile have toppled buildings and destroyed infrastructure, which they say was being used by militants to wage war.
Gaza has remained under blockade by Israel and Egypt since the Hamas takeover, with strict conditions on who comes and goes to the strip. Rights groups and NGOS regularly insist that the blockade amounts to collective punishment over a population that has little freedom of movement.