BFF-02 Israel strikes Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza despite ceasefire

146

ZCZC

BFF-02

ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS-CONFLICT-GAZA

Israel strikes Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza despite ceasefire

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories, Nov 15, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Israel
launched fresh strikes against Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza, the army said
early Friday, weakening a ceasefire put in place after fighting this week
killed 34 Palestinians in exchanges of fire.

The ceasefire began Thursday morning following two days of deadly violence
in the Gaza Strip triggered by an Israeli strike on an Islamic Jihad
commander.

But Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said in a WhatsApp message to reporters
that new overnight strikes were under way on Islamic Jihad, the second most
powerful Palestinian militant group in Gaza after Hamas.

“The IDF is currently striking Islamic Jihad terror targets in the Gaza
Strip,” it said.

It came after five rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza — also after the
ceasefire came into effect — with two of them intercepted by air defences,
according to the army.

During the day on Thursday, normal life had resumed quietly in Israeli
regions near the Gaza border, while in Gaza, citizens had also embraced the
return of a relative calm.

“We hope for peace, we don’t want war,” said Mahmoud Jarda, an inhabitant
of the enclave.

The ceasefire brokered by Egyptian and UN officials, the usual mediators
between Gaza and Israel, was agreed as the flare-up raised fears of a new
all-out conflict in the territory.

– Bomb shelters –

The escalation began early Tuesday with Israel’s targeted killing of a top
Islamic Jihad commander, Baha Abu al-Ata, whom it accused of being behind
rocket fire and other attacks.

The violence came at a politically sensitive time for Israel, with no new
government in place since a September election ended in deadlock.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abu al-Ata “was killed
alongside dozens of terrorists” after the strike on his home, adding: “Our
enemies got the message: We can reach anyone, even in their bed.”

That strike triggered almost immediate retaliatory rocket fire from Islamic
Jihad at Israel, setting off air raid sirens and sending Israelis rushing to
bomb shelters in the country’s south and central regions.

Israel’s military had said some 450 rockets had been fired at its territory
since Tuesday morning and air defences had intercepted dozens of them in
fireballs high in the sky.

No Israelis were killed, though one rocket narrowly missed speeding cars on
a busy highway. Israeli medics said they had treated some 63 people as of
Wednesday night for mild injuries and stress.

Israel responded with air strikes, saying it targeted more Islamic Jihad
militant sites and rocket- and missile-launching squads.

– Violent escalation –

Islamic Jihad had said several more of its members were among those killed
in the fighting this week.

Palestinian officials said eight members of the same family, including five
children, were killed in an Israeli strike in Deir al Balah in the central
Gaza Strip.

Israel’s military said the man targeted and killed in that strike was an
Islamic Jihad rocket unit commander.

“He, like many others, had the tactic of hiding ammunition and military
infrastructure in their own residence,” said military spokesman Jonathan
Conricus.

“Of course we try always to minimise the amount of non-combatants killed or
injured.”

But relatives, neighbours and an Islamic Jihad spokesman disputed that he
belonged to the militia, with some saying he had previously worked as a
Palestinian Authority (PA) military police officer.

PA employees have not worked in Gaza since the Hamas takeover in 2007 but
continued receiving salaries.

“This is a war crime,” said neighbour Adan Abu Abdallah. “You are killing
innocent children, sleeping at home.”

– Weekly protests –

Unusually, Israel has singled out Islamic Jihad rather than hold Hamas —
the Islamist movement that rules Gaza — responsible for the violence.

Israeli analysts said it was a clear signal the army sought to avoid a
wider conflict in Gaza, where Israel and Palestinian militants have fought
three wars since 2008.

Hamas repeatedly said it would not abandon its ally, but its decision not
to join the fight helped maintain a fragile truce with Israel that has seen
tens of millions of dollars in Qatari aid flow into the impoverished Gaza
Strip since last year.

An Egyptian official said the ceasefire had included an agreement that
Palestinian groups in Gaza work to prevent violence by demonstrators during
weekly protests near the border fence.

In return, Israel agreed to stop hostilities and commit to a ceasefire
during the weekly demonstrations, according to the official.

Israel did not confirm any of those claims.

Netanyahu did not comment publicly on the ceasefire, but had warned a day
earlier that Islamic Jihad must stop its rocket attacks or “absorb more and
more blows”.

He added that Israel did not want a further escalation but, if necessary,
was prepared to respond “without mercy”.

BSS/AFP/GMR/0834 hrs