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Israeli strikes on Gaza kill top militants and 10 civilians

The strikes were the deadliest since three days of fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad last August. [Source Credit: Getty Images]

At least 15 Palestinians, including three commanders of the militant group Islamic Jihad, have been killed in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian health officials said eight women and children were among the dead. Another 22 people were injured.

Israel said the Islamic Jihad leaders it targeted overnight were involved in recent attacks on Israeli civilians.

Islamic Jihad has vowed revenge and Gaza-based militants are expected to respond with rocket fire into Israel.

The extent of any escalation is likely to depend on whether Hamas, which controls Gaza, decides to join in.

Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the country was "prepared for all possibilities", adding: "I suggest that our enemies not test us."

The strikes were the deadliest since three days of hostilities between Israel and Islamic Jihad last August, in which 49 Palestinians were killed in Gaza.

Dentist Dr Jamal Khaswan's family lived in the top floor of a Gaza City apartment building that was targeted. [Source Credit: Reuters]

The Israeli strikes began in the early hours of Tuesday morning, when 40 warplanes and helicopters attacked in several waves across Gaza, hitting homes and causing panic among residents.

Pictures showed at least two apartments with their fronts ripped away and others damaged.

The Gaza health ministry said four children and four women were among those killed. Half of the injured were women and children and several were in a critical condition in hospital, it added.

Russia announced that one of its citizens, Dr Jamal Khaswan, a former chairman of the Gaza Dentists' Association, was killed along with his wife Mervat and their 21-year-old son Youssef.

Another two of their children survived, it said. They included 10-year-old daughter Diala, who was filmed sitting in the front seat of an ambulance and crying out for her father.

Dr Wafai al-Sousi, a friend and colleague of Dr Khaswan, condemned what he called the "cowardly targeting" of the family.

"I was very surprised. He was just an incredible doctor... with a good reputation. He did not belong to any political party and never worked with any military entity," he told the BBC.

Palestinian sources said Dr Khaswan lived in an apartment in Gaza City close to one of the militants who was killed.

Islamic Jihad's military wing, the al-Quds Brigades, confirmed the deaths of three of its commanders, along with their wives and a number of their children. It identified them as:

  • Jihad Shaker al-Ghannam, secretary of the al-Quds Brigades' Military Council

  • Khalil Salah al-Bahtini, the commander of its Northern Region

  • Tariq Mohammed Ezzedine, "one of the heads of military action" in the occupied West Bank

"We affirm that the blood of the martyrs will increase our resolve," the al-Quds Brigades said. "We will not leave our positions, and the resistance will continue, God willing."

The IDF said Bahtini was the senior operational officer of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and that he was responsible for recent rocket fire. It called him "an imminent threat to the security of Israeli civilians".

It added that Ghannam was a senior member of Islamic Jihad's rocket force and that Ezzedine was in charge of co-ordination with the group's operatives in the West Bank, planning attacks on Israeli civilians there.

The IDF said its aircraft also struck 10 sites used to manufacture weapons and six Islamic Jihad military facilities.

A spokesman said that every effort had been made to try to minimise harm to civilians, but he acknowledged that those killed included relatives of the militants, as well as Dr Khaswan and his family.

Large crowds of mourners turned out for the funerals after midday prayers.

Later on Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said one of its aircraft struck a "terrorist squad" carrying anti-tank missiles in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza.

Smoke was seen rising from a burning car after the strike. The Gaza health ministry said two people were killed and two others injured.

Israel said Jihad Ghannam, Tariq Ezzedine and Khalil al-Bahtini were responsible for recent attacks. [Source Credit: Reuters]

Officially known as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the militant group is the biggest in Gaza next to Hamas.

It has been responsible for many of the rocket attacks on Israel from the territory in recent years and is sworn to Israel's destruction.

There was a serious flare-up last week, as Islamic Jihad and other groups fired several barrages of rockets into Israel over two days, following the death in an Israeli prison of a Palestinian hunger striker. The Israeli military carried out air strikes in response.

"On the day on which the rockets were fired last week, I ordered - together with the defence minister - the preparation of an operation to target the arch-terrorists that would, in effect, hit the senior leadership of the organisation in the Gaza Strip," Mr Netanyahu said at the start of a security cabinet meeting.

"Our principle is clear: whoever harms us, we will strike at them and with great force."

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said his country "must be ready for any scenario, including a prolonged campaign and expanding the firing ranges" of rockets from Gaza.

Residents of Israeli communities within 40km (25 miles) of Gaza have been advised to stay close to bomb shelters.

Armed groups in Gaza said those responsible for the strikes should "prepare to pay the price" [Source Credit: Reuters]

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh warned: "Assassination of leaders will not bring the Occupation [Israel] security but more resistance."

In a joint statement, armed groups in Gaza said they would mourn all those who died as a result of what they called "the treacherous Israeli aggression" and that those responsible should "prepare to pay the price".

The spokesman for West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Israeli government "bears full responsibility for this dangerous escalation".

UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland condemned the deaths of civilians and urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint in order to "avoid a broader conflict with devastating consequences for all".

Israeli forces also carried out a raid in the West Bank city of Nablus on Tuesday.

Palestinian media reported that two Palestinians were detained and 13 others shot and injured during confrontations with the troops. Israeli media said a soldier was lightly injured when a bomb exploded beside his armoured vehicle.

Map of the Gaza Strip. [Source Credit: BBC]


(c) 2023, BBC


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