‘Constant fear’ in Gaza as Israel continues assault for 4th day

Al-Jazeera  /  May 12, 2023

Islamic Jihad commander killed in latest Israeli attack as foreign mediators press ahead with ceasefire efforts.

At least two Palestinians have been killed and several others wounded on the fourth consecutive day of Israeli bombardment on the besieged Gaza Strip, Palestinian medical officials have said.

One of the people killed in Friday’s air raid on an apartment was a senior leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group (PIJ), local media reported. It brought the total number of Palestinians killed in this week’s bombardment to at least 33, including several children, with more than 110 also wounded.

Hundreds of rockets have also been launched from the Strip towards Israel, with a 70-year-old killed in central Israel.

Al-Jazeera’s Youmna al-Sayed, reporting from central Gaza, said the latest strike targeted a six-storey building in the “densely populated” Al-Nasr neighbourhood.

Israel “targeted a residential apartment” which destroyed at least three floors of the building, she said.

“These people were not warned to get out of their homes, there was no warning missile fired prior to this targeting,” Al- Sayed added.

Civil defence teams evacuated at least 10 people who have been critically injured.

“This shows that there is an ongoing escalation,” Al-Sayed said, despite reports of mediation efforts.

Jennifer Austin, director of operations in the Gaza field office for the UN refugee agency (UNRWA), said the humanitarian situation is “already dire”.

“It’s a really bad situation coming off of 15 years of … an economic and social blockade,” Austin told Al-Jazeera.

“The people here are not very hopeful … they’re at the end of their coping mechanisms,” she said.

Despite days of bombardment, UNRWA has been continuing their food distribution program, as well as sanitation in the camps, Austin said. The agency’s 22 health centres are also till operating.

Earlier, Palestinians surveyed the wreckage caused by the Israeli attacks.

“The dream that we built for our children, for our sons, has ended,” said Belal Bashir, a Palestinian living in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza whose family home was reduced to a heap of rubble in an air raid late on Thursday.

“Our situation is the same as that of any Palestinian citizen whose house is targeted and whose dream, built over the years, is destroyed,” he said.

He and his family would have been killed in the explosion if they had not run outside when they heard shouting, he said.

“We were shocked that our house was targeted,” Bashir said as he pulled his children’s dolls and blankets from a bomb crater.

Al Jazeera’s Willem Marx, reporting from Ashkelon in Israel, said sirens were sounding throughout the area, warning residents of incoming fire.

“Possibly about two dozen rockets were fired from Gaza, among the more than 800 launched this week,” Marx said on Friday. “The Israeli military has confirmed to us it is moving residents away from these areas to get them to places less likely to be hit by this heavy rocket fire.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met army and intelligence officials early on Friday. “That will indicate how the Israeli military will proceed over the coming hours,” Marx said.

A rocket slammed into an open field in the south Jerusalem settlement of Bat Ayin, said Josh Hasten, a spokesperson for the area. Videos showed Israelis jumping out of their cars and crouching beneath highway rails as sirens sounded.

An umbrella group of Gaza-based Palestinian factions known as the “joint operations room” said it launched rockets “in response to the assassinations and continued aggression toward the Palestinian people”.

Ceasefire talks

The cross-border exchanges this week have pitted Israel against Islamic Jihad, the second-largest armed group in Gaza after the territory’s Hamas rulers.

Meanwhile, Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have been working to broker a ceasefire.

Hamas officials told local media on Friday that Egypt was ramping up its diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting through “intensive contacts” with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad figures have sent mixed signals about the talks.

Senior official Ihasan Attaya complained on Friday that the mediators “have been unable to provide us with any guarantees”. A sticking point has been Islamic Jihad’s demands that Israel cease its policy of targeted killings, Attaya said.

This week’s battles began on Tuesday when Israel launched simultaneous air raids that killed three Islamic Jihad commanders along with at least 10 civilians – some of their wives, children and neighbours – as they slept in their homes.

Israel said it was retaliating for a barrage of rocket fire launched last week by Islamic Jihad after the death of one of its occupied West Bank members, Khader Adnan, from a hunger strike while in Israeli custody.