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Israel Strikes Off Top Gaza Militia, Causing Rocket Barrage -by Ecork

The Israeli PM said the attacks were a “true counter-terrorist operation against an immediate threat”.

Gaza City:

Israel hit Gaza with airstrikes on Friday, killing more than 15 people, including a top terrorist, and prompting a flurry of retaliatory rocket fire from the area.

Israel said it launched a pre-emptive strike against Islamic Jihad, killing a senior leader of a Palestinian militant group blamed for a series of recent attacks inside Israel.

Islamic Jihad said Israel’s bombing was a “campaign of war”, hours before it launched what it said was a “first response” of more than 100 rockets into Israel.

There were no immediate reports of casualties inside Israel, as officials in the country’s commercial capital Tel Aviv said they opened the city’s bomb shelters.

But in Gaza, a child was among those killed, according to the local health center, which is run by the Islamist group Hamas.

Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since taking control of Gaza in 2007, most recently in May of last year. Islamic Jihad is a separate group, but aligned with Hamas.

Israeli strikes continued on Friday, targeting what the military described as terrorist targets across the area that has been blocked since Hamas took over.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the attacks were “an actual counter-terrorist operation against an immediate threat”.

– Five year old –

Flames erupted from a building in Gaza City following the first round of attacks, while wounded Palestinians were evacuated by doctors.

Gaza’s health center reported “a five-year-old girl, targeted by Israeli occupation” was among the nine people killed. Another 55 Palestinians were injured, the agency said.

Five-year-old Alaa Kaddum had a red bow in her hair and a wound on her forehead, as her father carried her body to her funeral.

Islamic Jihad said several members of its armed group were among those killed, including “the powerful Taysir al-Jabari ‘Abu Mahmoud’, commander of the Al-Quds Brigade in the northern Gaza Strip.”

Hundreds of mourners gathered in Gaza City for the funeral of Jabari and others killed in the airstrikes.

Israeli army spokesman Richard Hecht said “we think about 15 were killed in action” in Gaza, referring to Palestinian fighters.

Israeli tanks are lined up along the border and the military said on Thursday it was strengthening its forces.

US Ambassador Tom Nides said Washington “truly believes that Israel has the right to defend itself”.

“We are interacting with different groups and urge all groups for calm,” he wrote on Twitter.

UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “very concerned”, warning that the escalation was “very dangerous”.

– ‘Pay the money’ –

The attacks came four days after Israel closed its two border crossings with Gaza and restricted the movement of Israelis living near the border, citing security concerns.

The action follows the arrest in the occupied West Bank of two senior members of Islamic Jihad, which has a strong presence in Gaza. The army did not launch attacks on Israeli territory after the arrest.

Gaza resident Abdullah al-Arayshi said the situation was “severe”. “The country is broken. We have had enough wars. Our nation has lost its future,” he told AFP.

Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, said Israel had “committed a new crime for which the price must be paid”.

“The opposition in all armed forces and groups is united in this struggle and will speak loudly… All fronts must open fire on the enemy,” he said in a statement.

Lapid, who meets with his security chiefs every day, said: “Anyone who tries to harm Israel should know – we will find you.”

Islamic Jihad is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States.

The office of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said Israel’s military action was a “dangerous escalation” and called on the international community to curb Israel’s “aggression”.

The Israeli army has banned large gatherings in areas within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the Gaza border until Saturday night.

The measure follows four days of road closures and other restrictions in the border area.

Palestinians including the sick and those with Israeli work permits have been prevented from leaving Gaza since Tuesday, while the cargo crossing has also been closed.

Gaza’s only power station is at risk of an imminent shutdown due to a lack of oil supplies by Israel, its manager warned Thursday.

This week’s closure of the border area followed an attack by security forces in the northwestern province of Jenin.

Israeli forces have detained Bassem al-Saadi and a senior member of Islamic Jihad. A 17-year-old boy from the group was shot dead by Israeli soldiers during the attack.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from an integrated feed.)

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