Fighting Between Israel and Islamic Jihad: Here’s Where Things Stand
Israel said on Friday that it had struck more rocket-launching sites operated by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, in Gaza, and the group fired rockets into Israel, reaching as far as the hills around Jerusalem, as cross-border fighting stretched into a fourth day despite overnight mediation efforts to reach a cease-fire.
Israel has killed five Islamic Jihad commanders since the hostilities erupted on Tuesday, and the militant group has responded to Israeli attacks by firing more than 850 rockets and mortar rounds into Israel from Gaza, the Israeli military said.
At least 31 Palestinians have been killed, six of them children, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Friday. It said that more than 90 Palestinians had also been injured.
A rocket fired from Gaza on Thursday evening struck a residential building in Rehovot, a city in central Israel. One person was killed in that attack — the first casualty on the Israeli side in the several days of fighting. Five more people were injured in that rocket attack, according to Israel’s ambulance service.
How did the fighting erupt?
The fighting, Israel’s third confrontation with Islamic Jihad in Gaza since last summer, began with the targeted assassinations of three of the militant group’s top commanders. Ten civilians, four of them children, also died, according to Palestinian officials.
Israel has said that the Islamic Jihad commanders it targeted were responsible for firing rockets into Israel, including more than 100 projectiles that the group fired toward Israel on May 2.
Islamic Jihad has responded to the Israeli attacks by firing rockets into southern and central Israel.
Israel’s military has also conducted scores of airstrikes against Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza over the past few days, and on Thursday killed two more of the group’s senior commanders.
What happens next?
Egypt and other regional powers have been pressing the two sides to agree to a cease-fire. After several hours of calm early Friday, it appeared that those efforts had not succeeded as the cross-border exchanges of fire resumed.
The sides had earlier appeared to be nearing a cease-fire on Wednesday night, but hopes of a deal faded the next day as the fighting surged again. Islamic Jihad has presented several conditions for a cease-fire, including an Israeli commitment to halt assassinations.
Despite the mediation efforts, both sides vowed on Thursday to fight on if necessary.
“Whoever harms us will pay the price, as will his replacement,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said. “We are in the midst of a campaign of both offense and defense,” he added.
Islamic Jihad said in a statement that “The enemy continues its crimes against those who are safe in their homes, and it will pay the price for that.”
How has Hamas responded?
Hamas, the larger Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, has voiced its support for Islamic Jihad’s actions, and on Thursday praised the strike that resulted in the Israeli death.
Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official, described the strike as retaliation for the assassination of the two Islamic Jihad commanders on Thursday and for other Israeli “crimes.”
But Israeli officials say that Hamas has not actively joined in the rocket launching itself, a factor that could limit the scope of hostilities.
Hamas, which bears responsibility for the population of more than two million Palestinians in Gaza, has been less eager to engage in fighting with Israel over the past year since Israel issued almost 20,000 permits for Gazans to work in Israel.
Gaza is a largely impoverished territory that operates under a strict air, land and sea blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.
What’s the situation on the ground?
Millions of Israelis in areas within range of the rocket fire have been told to stay close to safe rooms and shelters.
Israel’s air defense systems intercepted most of the other rockets that appeared headed toward population centers, although a few slipped through and caused damage to several houses.
In Gaza, schools and many businesses have been closed this week. Israel also shuttered its schools within a 25-mile radius of the Gaza border and closed its border crossings with the enclave, preventing the passage of people or goods.
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