Palestinian officials say 8 dead in airstrikes on Gaza that Israel says are targeting militant groups

Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes in Gaza on Friday that it said targeted the Islamic Jihad militant group amid days of heightened tensions. The Palestinian Health Ministry said the airstrikes have killed at least eight people, including a five-year-old girl, and wounded another 40.

The militant group Islamic Jihad said one of its Gaza commanders was among those killed.

The strikes risked igniting yet another war in the territory, which is ruled by Hamas and is home to about two million Palestinians.

A blast could be heard in Gaza City, where smoke poured out of the seventh floor of a tall building. Meanwhile, a few hundred people gathered outside the morgue at Gaza City’s main Shifa hospital. Some entered to identify loved ones, only to emerge in tears.

Airstrikes targeting militant group, Israel says

The Israeli military said it was targeting Islamic Jihad in an operation named “Breaking Dawn.” It also announced a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and limits placed on other activities in communities within 80 kilometres of the border. 

Israel had closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it braced for a revenge attack after the arrest of a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the occupied West Bank on Monday. A teenage member of the group was also killed in a gun battle between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

People assist an injured person after an explosion in Gaza City on Friday after a series of Israel airstrikes. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

“The Israeli government will not allow terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to set the agenda in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and threaten the citizens of the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement.

“Anyone who tries to harm Israel should know: We will find you.” 

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited communities near Gaza on Friday, saying authorities were preparing “actions that will remove the threat from this region,” without elaborating.

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah, speaking to the al-Mayadeen TV network from Iran, said “we are starting the fight, and the fighters of the Palestinian resistance have to stand together to confront this aggression.”

He said there would be “no red lines” in the confrontation and blamed the violence on Israel.

“The Israeli enemy, who started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it,” said Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum.

Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares its ideology. Both groups are opposed to Israel’s existence and have carried out scores of attacks over the years, including the firing of rockets into southern Israel.

Supporters and family members of Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin, killed during the 2014 conflict in the Gaza Strip, march and call for the return of his remains and the return of other Israelis held in Gaza back to Israel, near Kibbutz Yad Mordechai close to the Israeli Gaza border, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.
Israelis march to demand the return of captive Israelis and the remains of soldiers held in Gaza, near Kibbutz Yad Mordechai close to the Israel-Gaza border on Friday. (Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press)

Protesters demand return of Israeli captive, soldiers’ remains

Earlier on Friday, a few hundred Israelis protested near the Gaza Strip to demand the return of a captive and the remains of two Israeli soldiers held by the territory’s Hamas rulers.

The protesters were led by the family of Hadar Goldin, who along with Oron Shaul was killed in the 2014 Gaza war. Hamas is still holding their remains, as well as two Israeli civilians, hoping to exchange them for some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

The protesters pushed through two police checkpoints on a road near the heavily guarded Gaza frontier before stopping at a third. 

Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies that have fought four wars and dozens of smaller skirmishes since Hamas seized control of Gaza 15 years ago. 

Israeli soldiers stand near their tanks in an area near the Gaza Strip, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.
Israeli soldiers stand near their tanks in an area near the Gaza Strip on Friday. (Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press)

The most recent war was in May 2021, and tensions again soared earlier this year following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a flash-point Jerusalem holy site.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over the territory throughout that time. Israel says the closure is needed to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities, while critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s two million Palestinian residents.

Israel says there can be no major moves toward lifting the blockade until the soldiers’ remains and captive civilians are released. Israel and Hamas have held numerous rounds of Egyptian-mediated talks on a possible swap.