Israel strikes against Islamists in Gaza, killing at least 10 in surprise attacks

Five-year-old girl among fatalities in initial air strikes and at least 55 injured, says health ministry

Israel launched a military operation against Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza on Friday, killing a senior military commander and at least nine other people in a surprise series of attacks.

The Israeli attacks, named Operation Breaking Dawn, followed days of tension following the arrest by Israeli forces of a senior West Bank Islamic Jihad commander. Elite army units were sent to the Gaza border and 25,000 reservists were drafted.

The Gaza health ministry said a five-year-old girl was among the fatalities in the initial Israeli air strikes and at least 55 people were injured.

The senior Islamic Jihad Islamic commander who was killed in an attack on a Gaza apartment was named as Taysir al-Jabari, head of the organisation’s military wing in the northern Gaza Strip and in charge of co-ordination with Hamas, the organisation that runs the territory.

Israel also claimed that 10 Islamic Jihad operatives en route to committing anti-tank or sniper attacks on the border were struck in drone attacks.

“The goal of this operation is the elimination of a concrete threat against the citizens of Israel and the civilians living adjacent to the Gaza Strip,” said prime minister Yair Lapid. “Anyone who seeks to harm Israel must know that we will get to them. Security forces will act against Islamic Jihad terrorists, to remove the threat from the citizens of Israel.”

Hamas response

Within hours Islamic Jihad said it had fired more than 100 rockets into Israel in retaliation for the airstrikes and the assassination.

“In an initial response to the assassination of the leader Tayseer al-Jaabari, the Jerusalem Brigades bombarded Tel Aviv and the cities in the centre and around Gaza with more than 100 rockets,” the group said in a statement.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said all armed groups in Gaza would respond to the Israeli military strikes.

Egypt said it was mediating in an effort to prevent further escalation and Israel informed the Egyptians it was seeking only a limited campaign.

As Israel braced for rocket fire from Gaza, including in the centre of the country, bomb shelters were opened across the south. Iron Dome missile defence batteries were deployed across southern and central Israel, including close to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The Gaza border area had been tense since the arrest on Monday night by Israeli troops of Bassam Saadi, a senior Islamic Jihad commander in the West Bank city of Jenin, a stronghold of the organisation.

The Israeli army had already sent reinforcements to the Gaza border area and closed roads, fearing a revenge anti-tank guided missile or sniper attack by the militants and told residents near the Gaza border to remain close to bunkers and fortified rooms.

Israel closed the Gaza border crossings and prevented Palestinian day labourers from working in Israel.

The lockdown cut off access for fuel trucks that supply Gaza’s sole power plant, which will have to shut down within a few days if the crossings are not reopened.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem