The Guardian / May 10, 2023
Region bracing for escalation after Israeli bombings killed three Palestinian commanders and 10 civilians.
Militants in the blockaded Gaza Strip have fired at least 60 rockets into Israel in response to surprise Israeli airstrikes a day before that killed three Palestinian Islamic Jihad senior commanders and at least 10 civilians.
Several salvoes in less than an hour set off air raid sirens in towns and cities across southern Israel on Wednesday afternoon, including the country’s commercial and cultural hub, Tel Aviv. Israel’s powerful Iron Dome air defence system intercepted several projectiles, and there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.
Israelis living in the south of the country, as well as the 2.3 million Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip, have been bracing for escalation since Israeli bombings in the early hours of Tuesday targeting senior Islamic Jihad operatives, launched despite a fragile ceasefire in place since last week’s day of cross-frontier exchanges of fire.
On Tuesday, after the initial Israeli bombardment, about 6,500 Israelis were evacuated from their homes near the Gaza periphery by the Defence ministry, and schools and several roads were closed in anticipation of a response from Gaza’s militant groups. Both Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the larger and more powerful movement in control of the strip, vowed to retaliate, raising fears of further escalation.
Through Egyptian mediators, Israel has relayed that it is solely targeting Islamic Jihad, with whom tensions have flared since the death on hunger strike of Khader Adnan, a prominent political figure affiliated with Islamic Jihad in Israeli custody.
Hamas has expressed solidarity with its smaller counterpart, and the two groups often coordinate with one another, but has largely stayed on the sidelines during recent flare-ups. Given Tuesday’s unusual targeted operation, and the high death toll, however, both groups are under significant pressure to respond.
A joint statement from the factions claiming responsibility for the barrage of fire from Gaza described it as a “broad response”, but Israeli officials appear to be hoping that Hamas does not want to risk a return to full-scale conflict.
Officials in an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) briefing said they had not detected active involvement from the larger group, even though a Hamas spokesperson, Abdellatif al-Kanou, claimed it had participated.
“Our actions are meant to prevent further escalation,” Rear Adm Danny Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesperson, said in a briefing with journalists. “Israel is not interested in war.”
Protracted Israeli strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday before the response from Gaza killed 16 people in total and injured 20. At least 10 were civilians, including Dr Jamal Hasan, a dentist, who was killed together with his wife, Mirfat, and 20-year-old son Yusef when a missile hit their building. The family’s 13-year-old daughter was left orphaned.
Tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have soared over the past year: more than 100 Palestinians and at least 19 Israelis and foreigners have been killed in 2023 so far across Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, leading to worries that a return to full-scale conflict is on the horizon.
Bethan McKernan is Jerusalem correspondent for The Guardian