Israel killed three senior Islamic Jihad commanders – and their wives and children – during airstrikes on targets in the Gaza strip, according to officials
The Palestinian Health Ministry said Tuesday’s attacks, which Israel said targeted residences of senior commanders, killed 12 people.
The Israeli army said Operation Shield and Arrow targeted Khalil Bahtini, the Islamic Jihad commander for northern Gaza Strip, Tareq Izzeldeen, the group’s intermediary between its Gaza and West Bank members, and Jehad Ghanam, the secretary of the Islamic Jihad’s military council. It said the three were responsible for recent rocket fire toward Israel.
Islamic Jihad, which is smaller than the dominant, ruling Hamas movement, confirmed the three were among the dead along with their wives – and several children.
Witnesses said an explosion hit the top floor of an apartment building in Gaza City and a house in the southern city of Rafah. Growing tension in the region is linked to increasing violence in the occupied West Bank, where Israel has been conducting near daily raids for the past months to detain Palestinians suspected in planning or carrying out attacks.
In anticipation of Palestinian rocket attacks in response to the airstrikes, the Israeli military issued instructions advising communities within 25 miles of Gaza to stay close to designated bomb shelters. Gaza militants fired several salvos of rockets toward southern Israel last week, Israeli military responding with airstrikes following the death of a hunger-striking senior member of the Islamic Jihad in Israeli custody.
The exchange of fire ended with a fragile ceasefire mediated by Egypt, the United Nations, and Qatar. Last year Israel bombed places housing commanders of the Islamic Jihad group, setting off a three-day blitz which saw the Iranian-backed group lose its two top commanders and dozens of militants.
Israel says the raids in the West Bank are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. The Palestinians see the attacks as further entrenchment of Israel’s 56-year, open-ended occupation of lands they seek for a future independent state.