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Rocket sirens sound in Israel as militants retaliate after Gaza airstrikes

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA -Rocket sirens sounded in southern and central Israel on Friday as Palestinian militants in Gaza responded to Israeli airstrikes that killed at least 10 people, including a top commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement.

As darkness fell, Israeli authorities said sirens sounded in southern and central areas, while footage broadcast by Israeli TV stations appeared to show a number of missiles shot down by defense systems Aerial. In Tel Aviv, Israel’s economic hub, witnesses said they could hear explosions, but there were no reports of sirens.

Islamic Jihad, a militant group with a similar ideology to Hamas, the Islamist movement in charge of Gaza, said it fired more than 100 rockets on Friday at Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv. The Israeli Ambulance Service said there were no reports of casualties.

Earlier, local health officials in Gaza said at least 10 people, including a five-year-old child, were killed and 55 injured in Israeli airstrikes, which came after days of escalating tensions following the arrest of a Palestinian militant leader during the week. .

An Israeli spokesman said the strikes killed Islamic Jihad commander Tayseer al-Jaabari and around 15 “terrorists”, but said the army did not have a definitive casualty total.

“Israel conducted a precise counterterrorism operation against an immediate threat,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a televised statement in which he pledged to do “whatever it takes to defend our people.”

“Our fight is not with the people of Gaza. Islamic Jihad is an Iranian proxy that wants to destroy the State of Israel and kill innocent Israelis,” he said.

An Islamic Jihad official confirmed that al-Jaabari, whom the IDF described as the main coordinator between Islamic Jihad and Hamas, was killed in the strikes, which hit several targets around the densely populated strip .

Smoke billowed from a building where al-Jaabari was apparently killed and glass and rubble were strewn across the street amid the sound of ambulances rushing to other sites.

As mourners prepared to hold funerals for those killed in the attacks, hundreds of people, some waving Palestinian flags, marched through the streets of Gaza.

The strikes came after Israel arrested Bassam al-Saadi, a senior leader of the Islamic Jihad group, in a raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin earlier this week.

It then closed all Gaza crossings and some nearby roads for fear of retaliatory attacks from the group, which has a stronghold in Gaza, further restricting Palestinian movement.

The IDF said Defense Minister Benny Gantz had approved plans to call up 25,000 reservists after the strikes, signaling that Israel expected a protracted confrontation.

‘NOPE REDLINES

In an interview with Al Mayadeen television, a pro-Iran Lebanese channel, Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhala promised retaliation for the strikes.

“There are no red lines in this battle and Tel Aviv will fall to the rockets of the resistance, along with all Israeli cities,” he said.

Hamas’ military wing released a statement saying, “The blood of our people and our mujahideen will not be in vain.

Islamic Jihad, one of the groups of Palestinian militant groups, was founded in Gaza in the 1980s and opposes political dialogue with Israel. Considered close to Iran, it is distinct from Hamas but generally cooperates closely with the movement.

The Israeli military spokesman said authorities expected rocket attacks on central Israel, but said the Iron Dome anti-missile batteries were operational. He said special measures had been imposed in Israeli areas 80 kilometers around Gaza.

He said plans to allow tankers into Gaza to keep the region’s only power plant operational were scrapped at the last minute as intelligence picked up movement indicating attacks on Israeli targets were being carried out. imminent.

The lack of fuel is expected to lead to more power cuts in Gaza, where residents already have only 10 hours of electricity a day, and further hit the economy of a region that is dependent on foreign aid and struggling still recovering from past wars.

A narrow strip of land home to some 2.3 million people in a 365 square kilometer (140 square mile) patch, Gaza has been a constant point of conflict since Hamas took control.

The area has since been under blockade, with Israel and Egypt strictly restricting the movement of people and goods in and out.

“We have not yet been able to rebuild what Israel destroyed a year ago. People haven’t had a chance to breathe, and here Israel is attacking again for no reason,” said Mansour Mohammad-Ahmed, 43, a farmer from central Gaza.

Friday’s attack came as Egyptian officials sought to mediate between Israel and Hamas, and an Islamic Jihad statement said the strikes appeared aimed at undermining mediation efforts.

Israel has fought five conflicts with Gaza since 2009, the most recent an 11-day war in May 2021, when Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Israel, killing 13 and Israel pounded the Strip with airstrikes that killed at least 250 Palestinians.