At least 15 people, including an Islamist leader and a girl, were killed on Friday in Israeli shelling targeting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization in the Gaza Strip, Israeli and Palestinian sources said.
“We estimate that about 15 people were killed,” army spokesman Richard Hecht told reporters, adding that the operation was “preventive” in nature and is not over yet.
The spokesman foresees an aftershock of rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave against Israeli territory.
The Islamic Jihad, included in the list of terrorist organizations of the United States and the European Union (EU), confirmed the death of one of its leaders and accused Israel of having “triggered a war”.
“The Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine and its military wing of the Al Quds Brigade mourn the death of the great jihadist commander Tayseer al Jabari ‘Abu Mahmud’, killed in a Zionist assassination in Gaza City,” he said.
Among the victims is also a five-year-old girl “killed by the Israeli occupation,” reported the Gaza Health Minister.
– “Without truce” –
Palestinian security sources and witnesses told AFP they had witnessed several shellings, mostly in the center of Gaza City.
AFP journalists observed the transfer of injured people and the action of firefighters to put out several fires.
“The Zionist enemy initiated this aggression and must prepare for us to fight relentlessly (…). After this bombardment, there will be no respite,” the secretary general of Islamic Jihad told Lebanese television Al-Mayadeen from Tehran.
“We have to collectively defend ourselves and our people. We will not allow the enemy to undermine the resistance and our national perseverance,” said a statement from the organization.
The Israeli offensive follows the arrest on Monday in the occupied West Bank of an Islamic Jihad leader, Basem Saadi.
Israeli authorities feared retaliatory attacks from Gaza, a territory ruled by the Islamist group Hamas and with a strong Islamic Jihad presence.
The army on Tuesday ordered the closure of all border crossings, blocking the arrival of thousands of Gazans who have work authorization in Israel.
The closure also slowed the delivery of diesel to Gaza, which is usually trucked in from Egypt and Israel and powers the territory’s only power plant.
Since 2007, Israel has imposed a strict blockade of the Gaza Strip, an enclave of 362 km2 in which 23 million inhabitants live, with high levels of unemployment and poverty.
The last Israeli bombardments in the area dated from February 19, when the Israeli army attacked a Hamas position, responding to a rocket fire from the enclave.
Gaza was the scene of several wars between Israel and Palestinian armed groups. The last one dates back to May 2021, which left 260 Palestinian dead and 13 in Israel, including a soldier, according to local authorities.