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Israeli airstrikes on Gaza kill 8, including a five-year-old girl and an elderly militant

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Israel unleashed a spate of airstrikes in Gaza on Friday, killing at least eight people, including a senior militant and a five-year-old girl, and wounding another 40, according to Palestinian officials. Israel said it was targeting the Islamic Jihad militant group in response to an “imminent threat” following the arrest of a senior militant in the occupied West Bank earlier this week.

His strikes risk another war in the area ruled by the militant Islamic Hamas and home to some 2 million Palestinians. The assassination of a senior militant seemed likely to draw rocket fire out of Gaza and bring the sides closer to an all-out war.

An explosion was heard in Gaza City where smoke billowed from the seventh floor of a skyscraper on Friday afternoon.

“The Israeli government will not allow terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to set the agenda in the area bordering the Gaza Strip and threaten the citizens of the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement. “Anyone trying to harm Israel should know: We will find you.”

The violence represents an early test for Lapid, who has assumed the role of acting prime minister ahead of November’s general election, in which he hopes to retain the position. He has experience in diplomacy, having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but his security credentials are tenuous.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health confirmed the death toll and said a 5-year-old girl was among those killed. It was not said if the others were militants or civilians.

Islamic Jihad said Taiseer al-Jabari, its commander for northern Gaza, was among those killed. He had succeeded another militant killed in an airstrike in 2019.

A few hundred people gathered outside the Shifa Hospital morgue in Gaza City. Some stepped in to identify loved ones, only to reemerge in tears. One shouted, “May God have vengeance on spies,” referring to Palestinian whistleblowers working with Israel.

An Israeli military spokesman said it launched the attacks in response to an “imminent threat” posed by two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles. The spokesman, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said al-Jabari was deliberately targeted and was responsible for “multiple attacks” on Israel.

The military also announced a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and other activities restricted in communities within 80 km of the border.

Israel earlier this week closed roads around Gaza and sent reinforcements to the border as it prepared for a revenge attack following Monday’s arrest of the Islamic Jihad leader in the occupied West Bank. A teenage member of the group was killed in a shootout between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several minor skirmishes 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 earlier this year tensions rose again after a spate of attacks in Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions in a hot spot, the holy site of Jerusalem.

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah told Iran’s al-Mayadeen TV channel, “Palestinian resistance fighters must stand together to confront this aggression.” He said there would be “no red lines” and did Israel responsible 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 take full responsibility for it.”

Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares Hamas’ ideology. Both groups oppose the existence of Israel and have carried out countless deadly attacks over the years, including firing rockets at Israel. It is unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel blames Hamas for all attacks from Gaza.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited communities near Gaza earlier on Friday and said authorities are preparing “actions that will remove the threat from this region.”

Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over the territory since the Hamas takeover in 2007. Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities, while critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment of the Gaza Strip’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

Israel has canceled an expected fuel delivery for Gaza’s only power plant, which was due to shut down early Saturday if fuel does not reach the area. Even when the plant is operating at full capacity, Gazans still suffer daily power outages lasting several hours.

Earlier Friday, a few hundred Israelis protested near the Gaza Strip to demand the return of a prisoner and the remains of two Israeli soldiers being held by Hamas.

The protesters were led by the family of Hadar Goldin, who was killed along with Oron Shaul in the 2014 Gaza war. Hamas is still holding her remains, as well as two Israeli civilians who strayed into Gaza and are believed to be mentally ill, in hopes of exchanging them for some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel.

The protesters pushed through two police checkpoints on a road near the heavily guarded border with Gaza before making a stop at a third.

They held a large sign demanding the return of the soldiers’ remains and Avraham Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent in his late 20s or early 30s. Mengistu’s family joined the protest.

In June, Hamas released a rare video showing another prisoner, Hisham al-Sayid, an Arab citizen of Israel, in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask and an IV line. His health has deteriorated recently, it said. Reporters covering the protest heard no mention of al-Sayid.

Israel says there can be no major steps to lift the blockade until the remains of the soldiers and captured civilians are released. Israel and Hamas have held numerous Egyptian-brokered talks on a possible swap.

https://www.independent.ie/world-news/middle-east/israeli-airstrikes-on-gaza-kill-8-including-five-year-old-girl-and-senior-militant-41892733.html Israeli airstrikes on Gaza kill 8, including a five-year-old girl and an elderly militant

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