Israel escalated its bloody assault on the Gaza Strip for the second day on Wednesday, killing six Palestinians in the coastal enclave and prompting barrages of retaliatory rockets from resistance groups in the territory.
Meanwhile, two Palestinians were killed Wednesday morning in an Israeli attack on Qabatiya, a town near the northern West Bank city of Jenin.
The violence intensified Wednesday evening as efforts to reach a ceasefire continued with the prospects of success seemingly changing by the hour.
Al Jazeera reported that the negotiations mediated by Egypt appeared to be stuck over Israel’s refusal to abandon its policy of assassinating Palestinian resistance leaders, as well as its refusal to return the body of Khader Adnan, the hunger striker who died in an Israeli prison last week.
That attack killed three officials of the Islamic Jihad resistance group along with other residents of the civilian buildings targeted by Israel.
Israel mounted the surprise attack on the officials “while knowing they were with their families and children,” human rights group Al-Haq said.
“This deliberate and premeditated act underscores the fact that the killing of Palestinian families and children is not a mere oversight but rather a carefully calculated one, and is part of a systemic policy,” Al-Haq added.At least six Palestinian children were among those killed since the Israeli bombing started early Tuesday.
More than 60 Palestinians have been injured since the beginning of Israel’s assault, according to the health ministry in Gaza.
Amid the truce talks, Israeli attacks and Palestinian counterfire intensified well into Wednesday evening, including more Israeli targeting of Palestinian homes.
There were at least eight injuries in Israel on Wednesday among Israelis running to bomb shelters, but none were reported to be serious.
Meanwhile, the terror experienced by Palestinians in Gaza went far beyond the immediate death, injury and destruction from Israeli air attacks.
The incessant sound of drones “creates a constant state of terror, panic and anxiety” among the two million people living there, according to Al Mezan, a human rights group based in Gaza.
The group notes that “between 2000 and 2023, at least 2,148 Palestinians, including 378 children and 86 women, were killed by Israeli drones.”
Nearly 350 were killed inside their homes, including more than 100 children – underscoring the reality that there is no safe place in Gaza.
At the same time, Israel’s closure of the Erez checkpoint, the only crossing for people between Gaza and Israel, is another form of violence against the most vulnerable Palestinians, medical patients who are unable to leave the besieged territory for lifesaving medical treatment.
Since Tuesday, more than 290 patients and their companions, most of them living with cancer, have been blocked from leaving Gaza to access treatment in hospitals in the occupied West Bank and Israel, according to the health ministry in Gaza. This is in addition to 15 patients that need life-saving treatment.
There was a growing consensus that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched the assault on Gaza purely for domestic political reasons – to appease the ultra-far-right figures in his fractious coalition, particularly national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
According to the staff editorial of the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz, for instance, Israel’s assassination of Islamic Jihad leaders was “all about Israeli politics.”
But without any clear goals and life in Israel severely disrupted, Israel asked Palestinian resistance factions for an immediate ceasefire.
At one point, Netanyahu and his defense minister Yoav Gallant held a live press conference where they attempted to present the attacks on Gaza to the Israeli public as a great achievement.
“We wiped out the leadership” of Islamic Jihad, Gallant claimed, adding that the Israeli military had “dealt a significant blow to the assets of this murderous terrorist organization.”
But these assertions were belied by the fact that Islamic Jihad continued to fire large volleys of missiles towards Israeli targets.
The Israeli leaders’ grandiose claims appeared to be a face-saving effort to make their real message more palatable. Israel’s bombing campaign was not over, Gallant said. He added: “I hope that we will bring it to an end soon, but we are ready for it to be protracted.”
Throughout Wednesday, Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of rockets towards Israeli strongholds in retaliation for Israel’s attacks in Gaza.
Meanwhile, the joint operations room of the Palestinian resistance groups made clear that Islamic Jihad had the full backing of the other factions, who stood ready to act should circumstances require it.
While Hamas and Islamic Jihad cooperate and strategize jointly, Hamas has not entered the confrontation directly. Doing so would all but guarantee an escalation when Palestinian resistance factions have indicated that they do not want to intensify a round they did not start.
Nonetheless, the joint operations room affirmed that Palestinian resistance groups were “ready for all options.”
The groups emphasized that “targeting civilian homes, encroaching on our people and assassinating our men and heroes is a red line.”
Israel for its part has been desperate to keep Hamas out of the battle, undoubtedly aware that its rocket arsenal is even more formidable than that of Islamic Jihad.
Israel’s impatience for a ceasefire is not surprising given that according to its own military it had managed at one point to intercept just one in five of the 270 missiles the resistance fired.
Palestinian resistance groups are believed to be capable of firing thousands of rockets, which could quickly exhaust Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system if the situation escalated further.
Each Iron Dome interceptor missile is estimated to cost at least $80,000.
On top of that, Israel is unable to sustain prolonged disruption to its civilian economy amid widespread fear and panic among its population.
Israel briefly stopped flights from landing in the Ben-Gurion airport near Tel Aviv as Palestinian rockets reached central Israel on Wednesday.
An extended period of fighting can lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for Israel’s economy, as it did during Israel’s 11-day bombardment of Gaza in May 2021.
Cool-headed resistance factions
Among those killed in Wednesday’s violence in Gaza was 10-year-old Layan Madoukh. She died and her sister was injured, according to reports, in an Israeli missile attack on Gaza City.
That attack also killed 16-year-old Yazan Jawdat Elayyan, according to Defense for Children International-Palestine.On Wednesday morning, an Israeli drone strike attacked a group of Palestinian farmers near Khan Younis, killing 25-year-old Muhammad Abu Tuayma. Meanwhile in the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian men on Wednesday morning.
The Israeli army said the pair opened fire on occupation forces from a car in Qabatiya, a town near Jenin, when the Israeli army responded, killing the two.
They were named as Ahmad Jamal Assaf, 19, and Rani Walid Qatanat, 24.Israeli fire also critically injured a 17-year-old boy, the Palestinian health ministry stated.
In another incident in the West Bank town of Tubas, a female Israeli soldier was seriously injured by shrapnel during a firefight with Palestinian resistance fighters, early Wednesday, the Israeli military said.
Occupation authorities detained two persons they claim were involved in the incident.
Wednesday marked two years since Israel’s 11-day bombardment of Gaza in May 2021, killing more than 250 Palestinians, including at least 60 children.
A repeat of that horrifying bloodshed was not far from anyone’s mind. But despite claiming to want to end the violence, Israel has repeatedly sabotaged ceasefires since the end of the May 2021 escalation.
This includes a three-day military confrontation between Israel and Islamic Jihad in August 2022, which started when an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City killed Taysir Mahmoud al-Jaabari, a military leader in Islamic Jihad, and Salameh Muharib Abed, al-Jaabari’s aide.
Israeli missiles killed a Palestinian civilian during last week’s violence.
That round ended with a truce mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations. But while Palestinians breathed a sigh of relief, Israel was already planning its next attack.
Tamara Nassar contributed reporting.