Israeli aircraft struck what it said were Islamic Jihad sites in Syria and Gaza after a barrage of rockets were fired from the Strip in retaliation for Israeli soldiers killing two operatives near the Gaza border.
The dramatic escalation between Israel and the second-largest armed group in Gaza after Hamas began after two Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operatives were killed trying to plant a bomb along the Gaza-Israel border.
An Israeli bulldozer later retrieved the body of one of the PIJ fighters, under the orders of Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett. This led to more than 30 rockets being fired into southern Israel.
The Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted 16, the rest landed harmlessly in open fields. One elderly resident of Ashkelon reportedly received light injuries while running to a shelter. Schools and major roads were ordered to close as a precaution, as shrapnel from intercepted rockets caused light damage.
The Israel Defence Forces hit back on Sunday, targeting Islamic Jihad sites in Gaza and Syria. It described the latter as a weapons manufacturing and research centre. Islamic Jihad said two fighters were killed, but Syrian sources put the figure at six.
Israel has long sought the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers from Hamas, which the Gaza-based group has been using as a “bargaining chip”. Bennett is understood to want the IDF to mirror those tactics.
Meanwhile, Israeli politician and former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman revealed that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Maj Gen Herzi Halevi of the IDF’s Southern Command visited Qatar this month to ask its leaders to continue payments to Hamas to help the ruling militia maintain calm inside the Strip.
Israeli Opposition leader Benny Gantz, a former army chief, said Israel’s government was now “Hamas’s hostage,” with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh “extorting [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and he’s paying it with suitcases full of dollars”.
The latest skirmish is the worst since November when 460 rockets were launched at Israel following the assassination of Abu al-Atta, a senior Islamic Jihad commander.