Israeli strikes kill more militants in Gaza as rocket fire resumes

Israeli strikes kill more militants in Gaza as rocket fire resumes

Israeli air strikes have killed more Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza as rocket fire towards Israel resumed after a brief overnight lull.

The death toll in the Gaza Strip rose to 18 Palestinians in the heaviest round of fighting in months.

The military said more than 250 rockets have been fired at Israeli communities since the violence erupted following an Israeli air strike that killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander accused of being the mastermind of recent attacks.

The latest fighting brought life in much of Israel to a standstill. Schools remained closed in Israeli communities near the Gaza border and restrictions on public gatherings continued as rockets rained down.

Those attacks came after the early morning strike on Tuesday killed Bahaa Abu el-Atta and his wife as they were sleeping. Rocket fire from Gaza reached as far north as Tel Aviv, and two people were wounded by shrapnel.

An Israeli Iron Dome air defence system missile is seen intercepting rockets fired from Gaza (Ariel Schalit/AP)
An Israeli Iron Dome air defence system missile is seen intercepting rockets fired from Gaza (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a special Cabinet meeting that Israel has no interest in sparking a wider confrontation but warned the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad that Israel will keep pounding them until the rockets stop.

“They know we will continue to strike them without mercy,” Mr Netanyahu said. “They have one choice: either stop these attacks or absorb more and more blows.”

Gaza’s Hamas rulers have yet to enter the fray — a possible sign the current round of violence could be brief. Although larger and more powerful than Islamic Jihad, Hamas is also more pragmatic. With Gaza’s economy in tatters, it appears to have little desire for more fighting with Israel.

Egypt, which frequently mediates between Israel and Gaza militants, has been working to de-escalate tensions, according to Cairo officials.

The Islamic Jihad rejected the efforts, with spokesman Musab al-Berim saying the group’s priority is to “respond to the crime and confront the Israeli aggression”.

Seeking to keep the outburst under control, the Israeli military has restricted its operations to Islamic Jihad, and nearly all the Gaza casualties so far have been members of the militant group.

Israel’s new defence minister Naftali Bennett said Israel would not hesitate to carry out additional targeted killings against those who threaten it.

“Whoever plans to harm us during the day, will never be safe to make it through the night,” he said after taking office on Tuesday.

Mr Netanyahu appointed him to fortify his hard-line political base as he clings to office after two inconclusive elections. Mr Bennett has long advocated tougher action against Palestinian militants but was not part of the plans to strike Abu el-Atta.

Cars were destroyed in southern Isreal by a rocket fired from Gaza (Ariel Schalit/AP)
Cars were destroyed in southern Isreal by a rocket fired from Gaza (Ariel Schalit/AP)

No Israeli deaths have been caused by the rockets attacks, mostly thanks to Israel’s Iron Dome defence system, which the military said intercepted some 90% of the projectiles.

A few homes suffered direct strikes, though, and there was a near miss on a major highway, where a rocket crashed down just after a vehicle had passed.

In Gaza, the Islamic Jihad said 38-year-old Khaled Faraj, a brigade commander, was killed early on Wednesday along with another militant from the group’s Quds radio network. Four others were killed in an air strike, including a father and two sons, and two others were targeted later.

Along with Tuesday’s pre-dawn strike in Gaza, another strike attributed to Israel targeted a senior Islamic Jihad commander based in Syria. The strikes appeared to be a new surge in the open warfare between Israel and Iranian proxies in the region.

Iran has forces based in Syria, Israel’s northern neighbour, and supports Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. In Gaza, it supplies Islamic Jihad with cash, weapons and expertise.

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