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Israeli airstrikes kill senior Islamic Jihad official


Islamic Jihad said in a statement that one of its top leaders, Tayseer Al Jabari, was killed in an Israeli strike. He was commander of the Quds Brigade, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, the group said, and a member of its military council.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said at least 10 people had been killed, including a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman. Another 75 were injured, he added. Israel insists most of those killed were militants.

A CNN producer in Gaza saw medics carry two bodies out of a building called the Palestine Tower that had been hit in one of the strikes.

An Israeli army statement said the military operation – which it called “Breaking Dawn” – targeted Islamic Jihad, the smaller of the two main militant groups in Gaza.

The Israeli army said the main objective of its military action was a pre-emptive airstrike on Al Jabari and strikes against two anti-tank squads that were on their way to carry out an attack against Israeli forces.

In a call with reporters Friday evening, an army spokesperson said the two squads were tracked for several days before the air force carried out its operation, adding that Israel had been facing an imminent threat for several days as the two militant units closed in very close to the fence separating Gaza from Israel.

A “special situation” has been declared in areas around Gaza, in anticipation of possible rocket fire or other retaliatory attacks, the Israeli military said.

“The purpose of this operation is the elimination of a concrete threat against the citizens of Israel and civilians living near the Gaza Strip, as well as the targeting of terrorists and their sponsors,” the prime minister said. Israeli Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. said in a joint statement.

“The Israeli government will not allow terrorist organizations from the Gaza Strip to set the agenda in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and threaten the citizens of the State of Israel. Anyone who tries to harm Israel should know: we will find you,” Lapid said.

Islamic Jihad pledged to respond. “All options are open, with all the means available to the Palestinian resistance, whether in Gaza or outside,” spokesman Daoud Shehab told Al Jazeera. “The battlefield is open… The resistance will respond with all its might. We won’t say how, but it is inevitable.”

Israeli airstrikes kill senior Islamic Jihad official

Meanwhile, Gantz authorized the recall of 25,000 reservists on Friday night, signaling Israel’s readiness for a full-scale escalation.

Those immediately called up will reinforce the army’s Southern Command, which includes the area around Gaza, as well as units operating Israel’s air defense systems, among other deployments, the Defense Ministry said.

Sirens of incoming rocket fire were heard in the southern town of Sderot and other villages near Gaza late Friday evening. Earlier, sirens sounded in Bat Yam, located a few kilometers south of Tel Aviv, and in Yavne, which lies between Tel Aviv and Ashdod. Israeli media reported that numerous rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, with no reports of casualties in Israel.

Between midnight local time Friday through Saturday (5 p.m. ET Friday), Palestinian militants had fired 118 rockets into Israel, according to an IDF official.

Eleven of the launches failed to breach the fence separating Gaza from Israel, the military said, meaning they landed somewhere inside the Strip.

The others were intercepted or landed in open areas, the military official said.

The Israeli army said it was continuing to strike Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza, including a rocket launch site near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis. The military also said it was hitting weapons production facilities.

Israeli airstrikes kill senior Islamic Jihad official

Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, appears to be treading cautiously amid a serious escalation between Israel and Islamic Jihad, the smaller of the strip’s two main militant factions.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh blamed Israel for the escalation, but his most recent statements stopped short of threatening to attack in response or warning of retaliation. Instead, they emphasized the role of international mediators and Hamas’ involvement in talks aimed at ending hostilities.

“The Israeli occupation bears full responsibility for its latest escalation in the Gaza Strip,” Haniyeh said in a Hamas statement on Saturday morning. “During a phone call with senior Egyptian intelligence officials, Haniyeh reaffirmed the need to immediately halt the ongoing Israeli bombardment in the besieged Gaza Strip,” the statement continued.

An earlier statement from Hamas reported that Haniyeh also spoke by phone with the Qatari foreign minister in a bid to end the violence.

When militants in Israel and Gaza fought a short war in May 2021 – the fourth such war in 13 years – Hamas was clearly in the driver’s seat. He sought to use the growing violence in and around the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem as a pretext to launch rockets towards Jerusalem, which sparked the 11-day conflict.

Tor Wennesland, senior UN official in the Middle East, said he was deeply concerned about the ongoing escalation between the two sides.

Referring to the killing of a five-year-old girl, Wennesland said there could be ‘no justification for attacks on civilians’, and addressing activists said ‘the launching of rockets must stop immediately, and I call on all parties to avoid further escalation.”

The UN, along with Egypt, has often played a key intermediary role between Israel and Palestinian militants to restore a ceasefire after the outbreak of hostilities.

Wennesland said the UN was “fully engaged with all parties concerned” to try to avoid further deterioration. But he added that “the responsibility lies with the parties to prevent this from happening”.

Friday’s strikes come after Israeli forces captured a senior Islamic Jihad commander, Bassam al-Saadi, in a raid Monday night in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

During the operation, a 17-year-old Palestinian linked to Islamic Jihad was shot dead in an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers, according to the Israeli army. The Palestinian Health Ministry said he was shot in the head by Israeli forces.

Saadi was one of two wanted terror suspects apprehended in the raid, Israel said. The Quds Brigade, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, said it was mobilizing its forces across the Palestinian territories in response.

Recent months have seen repeated Israeli operations in and around Jenin, after several deadly attacks inside Israel were carried out by Palestinian gunmen from the area. Thirty Palestinians have been killed in the raids since the start of the year, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Neri Zilber in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Cnn

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