As violence between the Israeli military and Palestinian militants in Gaza dragged on for a fifth day on Saturday, Egyptian-led mediation efforts for a ceasefire failed to halt the fighting, making it the latest round of clashes. among the longest in recent years.
Fighting has persisted because the militant group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, has failed to win over Hamas – the more powerful Islamic militant organization that controls Gaza – or any other major faction. Islamic Jihad fighters, alone on the battlefield, suffered crushing blows.
Some experts say that the strength of Islamic Jihad – which Israel, the United States and many other Western countries have classified as a terrorist organization – lies in the fact that, unlike Hamas, it has no responsibility for to the majority of Gaza’s impoverished population of over two million. people. Instead, it is focused solely on its long-term goal of replacing Israel with an Islamic state.
“It exists only for one purpose: to fight and ‘liberate’ the country,” Zakaria al-Qaq, a Palestinian national security expert based in East Jerusalem, told Islamic Jihad.
“They have no ministerial positions or parliamentary seats to keep and no privileges except to die” he said, adding that the group has earned the respect of many Palestinians, who sympathize with Gazans living under a strict land, air and sea blockade imposed. through Israel and Egypt.
Israel also maintains that Iran, the patron of Islamic Jihad, sets the agenda while the group’s leaders live in exile. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, Israel’s chief military spokesman, said last week that the group’s leaders, “living in hotels in Beirut and Damascus and driving Mercedes” while on Iran’s payroll, “are OK with the bloodshed in Gaza .”
The previous rounds of fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad – in April, August last year and in November 2019 – all ended in about 50 hours or less.
But in a television interview in October, Ziyad al-Nakhalah, the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in exile, said the group had made a “strategic mistake” two months ago in agreeing to a ceasefire. after 50 hours, under local and regional. pressure. He said they could have continued the fight and achieved “concrete results on the ground.”
This time, Israel argued that it was ready for a ceasefire without preconditions, but also said it was ready to continue its offensive. For its part, Islamic Jihad cited “great loyal majority support” on Saturday and said “the resistance is preparing itself for months of confrontation.”
Two key events on the calendar in the coming week have the potential to garner wider Arab support for the group’s cause.
On Monday, Palestinians and their supporters will mark the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, or “catastrophe” in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees fled or were driven from their homes in the war surrounding the creation of the Israel in 1948 and hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed. in present day Israel. Then, later this coming week, tens of thousands of Israeli nationalists are expected to march through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City with flags in an annual parade commemorating Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967. war.
Following the firing of rockets towards Jerusalem on Friday, Dawoud Shehab, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, told a local Arabic news outlet, “The war is getting closer to the time of the flag march – that’s what motivates us to continue.”
The warring sides traded blows again overnight and on Saturday. Israel’s military said it hit mortar-shell- and rocket-launching sites belonging to Islamic Jihad as well as what it described as two of the group’s command centers. And sirens continued to sound in southern Israel, warning of barrages of incoming projectiles.
Over the past five days, Islamic Jihad has fired more than 1,000 rockets and mortar rounds toward Israel, and Israel has hit more than 250 targets affiliated with the Gaza group, according to data released by military. Israeli authorities also said the group fired dozens of mortar shells into areas near the border crossings between Israel and Gaza, preventing them from opening for the passage of people. and things.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported at least 33 people killed in Gaza, most of them civilians, since the campaign began and more than 100 wounded. In Israel, an elderly woman was killed Thursday by a rocket launched from Gaza that hit an apartment block in central Israel. Israel’s ambulance service reported eight injured by shrapnel and debris, including three it said were injured on Saturday, two of them seriously. According to Israeli news media, two out of three are Palestinian workers from Gaza.
Israeli officials said the decision to launch the offensive against Islamic Jihad leaders was made on May 2, the day the group fired more than 100 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel after the death in Israeli custody. of a Palestinian hunger striker, Khader Adnan. , protesting his imprisonment. Mr. Adnan is an Islamic Jihad leader from the occupied West Bank. That night, Israel carried out several initial airstrikes in Gaza that killed one person.
Israeli officials said the campaign that began on Tuesday was aimed at weakening Islamic Jihad, a goal they achieved in the first seconds of the campaign, and restoring stability in the area. The opening strikes killed three of Islamic Jihad’s top commanders and 10 civilians, including children, according to Palestinian health officials. Three more of the group’s key commanders were killed in subsequent strikes this week.
The United States supports Israel’s right to defend itself against the incessant rocket fire of Islamic Jihad, while also stressing the urgency of reaching a ceasefire agreement.
Islamic Jihad presented several conditions for a ceasefire, including an Israeli commitment to stop the killings; the release of the body of Mr. Adnan for burial; and the cancellation of the Jerusalem flag parade — conditions that Israel has refused.
Egypt presented a new proposal late Friday for a ceasefire without conditions, according to a diplomat familiar with the talks. But on Saturday, the guns were still talking.
He is Abuheweila contributed reporting from Gaza City, and Carol Sutherland from Moshav Ben Ami, Israel.