Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza exchange fire; 2 Palestinians killed in West Bank raid
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli and Palestinian militants unleashed salvos of fire on Saturday for the fourth day, with the Islamic Jihad militant group launching more than 1,000 rockets and the Israeli army pounding targets in the Gaza Strip.
There were no immediate reports of casualties in Gaza or Israel on Saturday. But, recalling the flammable situation in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli army raided the Balata refugee camp in the northern city of Nablus, killing two Palestinians. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the two as Said Mesha, 32, and Adnan Araj, 19. At least three other Palestinians were injured in the raid, the latest of near-daily Israeli arrest operations against suspected militants in the area.
Meanwhile, hopes of an impending ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad faded when the Israeli army bombed an apartment belonging to Islamic Jihad commander Mohammed Abu Al Atta alongside other buildings in densely populated neighborhoods early Saturday. Islamic Jihad militants fired a barrage of rockets toward southern Israel, where millions of Israelis were ordered to stay close to safe rooms and bomb shelters.
Israeli officials told the media that efforts led by Egypt to negotiate a ceasefire are still underway, but that Israel has ruled out the terms Islamic Jihad presented during the talks. Israel has only said that silence will be met with silence, while Islamic Jihad has reportedly pressured Israel to agree, among other things, to end targeted killings. If the rocket fire from Gaza continues, Israeli officials told local media, “the attacks (on Gaza) will continue and intensify.”
Hostilities broke out on Tuesday when Israel attacked and killed three senior Islamic Jihad commanders it said were responsible for firing rockets into the country last week. At least 10 civilians, including women, young children and uninvolved neighbors, were killed in those initial attacks, which prompted regional condemnations.
In recent days, Israel has carried out further airstrikes, killing other senior Islamic Jihad commanders and destroying their command centers and missile launch sites. On Friday, Israel killed Iyad al-Hassani, an Islamic Jihad commander who had replaced a chief of the group’s military operations who was killed in an airstrike on Tuesday.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health has reported that 33 Palestinians have been killed – six of them children – and more than 147 injured.
Islamic Jihad retaliated by firing rockets into southern and central Israel. On Friday, the group escalated its attacks and fired rockets at Jerusalem, setting off air raid sirens in Israeli settlements south of the disputed capital. Most of the missiles failed or were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system. But one of them penetrated a missile defense on Thursday and sliced through a house in the central town of Rehovot, killing an 80-year-old woman and injuring several others.
Hamas, the larger militant group that has controlled Gaza since seizing power in 2007, has praised Islamic Jihad attacks but, according to Israeli military officials, has remained on the sidelines, narrowing the scope of the conflict. While the de facto government is held responsible for the appalling conditions in the blockaded Gaza Strip, Hamas has recently tried to contain the conflict with Israel. Islamic Jihad, on the other hand, a more ideological and unruly militant group tied to violence, has taken the lead in the past few rounds of fighting with Israel.
On Saturday, the deadly Israeli raid on the Balata refugee camp returned the focus of the conflict to the long-simmering West Bank. Residents said Israeli forces used shoulder missiles to besiege a militant hideout, sharing footage of a large explosion and clouds of smoke billowing from the crowded camp. The two Palestinians killed were not the target of the arrest, witnesses said, but were among the crowd of protesters who threw stones and explosives at Israeli troops. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the West Bank has intensified under Israel’s most right-wing government in history. Since the beginning of the year, 111 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied territory, at least half of them associated with militant groups, according to a tally by The Associated Press — the highest death toll in some two decades. In that time, 20 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
DeBre reported from Jerusalem