Israel’s military said on Tuesday it had struck Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza, killing at least three leaders of the Palestinian militant group, as both sides prepared for a possible escalation. increase in cross-border violence.
The airstrikes, which came a week after Islamic Jihad fired dozens of rockets at Israel, hit residential buildings across the Palestinian coastal territory. The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said at least 12 people were killed, including women and children, and at least 20 were injured.
Israel’s military said it targeted and killed Khalil Bahitini, who it said was responsible for launching rockets against Israel last month; Tareq Ezzedine, who ordered attacks against Israelis in the occupied West Bank; and Jihad Al-Ghanam, another top leader of the group.
The military wing of Islamic Jihad – classified by Israel, the United States and many other Western countries as a terrorist organization – confirmed the death of three leaders, saying in a statement that they had been killed. “as a result of a cowardly Zionist murder. at dawn today.”
The group said that some of the wives and children of the men were also killed, adding that “the blood of the martyrs increases our determination, and we will not abandon our positions and the resistance will continue, God willing .”
Gaza is ruled by Hamas, a larger Islamic militant group that sometimes acts in coordination with Islamic Jihad and, at other times, acts to suppress it.
Amid the strikes, the Israeli military ordered Israeli residents living within a 25-mile radius of the Palestinian coastal territory border to stay near bomb shelters for the next two days, apparently in anticipation of retaliation. rocket fire.
Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, declared a state of emergency along the border. The military released a map of road closures in the area and closed border crossings for people and goods.
The deadly airstrikes began around 2 a.m. Tuesday and hit Gaza City and the southern city of Rafah, along the Egyptian border. Two hours later, the military said it attacked more Islamic Jihad targets.
The operation, codenamed “Shield and Arrow,” comes a week after a brief outbreak of violence following the death of a prominent Palestinian prisoner, Khader Adnan, who went on strike in went on hunger strike for 87 days to protest his imprisonment. . Islamic Jihad fired more than 100 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel in the 24 hours after his death, seriously injuring a Chinese construction worker in the Israeli border town of Sderot.
Another brief flare-up a month later occurred after Israeli police in Jerusalem attacked the compound of the Aqsa mosque, a revered site known to Jews as the Temple Mount, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. . That prompted Palestinian groups in Gaza as well as militias in Lebanon – led by Hamas, according to the Israeli military – to fire barrages of rockets at Israel.
Israel attacked militias in southern Lebanon, as well as Hamas military sites in the Gaza Strip. It also hit militant areas in Gaza after rocket fire last week. But far-right members of Israel’s governing coalition complained that Israel’s response was too weak, and the ultranationalist national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, demanded that Israel continue its policy of targeted killings. of militant leaders.
Mr. Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, said in a Twitter post before dawn on Tuesday that the military and the Shin Bet, the domestic security agency, “exactly carried out their mission against the leadership of Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. Any terrorist who harms the citizens of Israel will regret it. We will chase and catch up with our enemies,” he added.
He is Abuheweila contributed reporting from Gaza City and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.