Israel kills Islamic Jihad leaders in surprise Gaza attack

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on 2 May.

Youssef Abu Watfa APA images

Israeli warplanes struck multiple sites across Gaza early Tuesday, killing three Islamic Jihad military leaders along with several others, with an initial total of 12 fatalities.

The Israeli military announced on Twitter that it had launched the beginning of an operation and thus a major escalation and yet another episode of terror for Gaza’s besieged population of 2.2 million Palestinians.

Unnamed “security officials” said “that they expect some military response from Hamas and that another round of fighting – lasting at least a few days – is likely,” the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz reported.

Israel said that it was “striking Islamic Jihad targets” in Gaza while updates posted on social media from the territory made clear that warplanes were bombing homes and other civilian objects.

The Palestinian resistance faction named the assassinated leaders as Jihad Shakir Ghanam, secretary of its military council, Khalil Salih al-Bahtini, a commander in northern Gaza, and Tariq Muhammad Izzedine, who helped lead the group’s activities in the West Bank.
Islamic Jihad stated on Telegram that the assassinated leaders’ wives and some of their children were also killed.

The surprise attack appeared to be a repeat of the unprovoked strikes targeting a senior commander from Islamic Jihad last August, triggering the launching of salvoes of rockets from Gaza.

Nearly 40 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza between 5 and 7 August last year. An additional 13 Palestinians in Gaza were killed during that period either by Israeli forces or by Palestinian rockets that fell short in the territory.

Additional Palestinians later succumbed to their injuries, including a 10-year-old boy who died earlier this year as a result from wounds sustained in an Israeli strike.

There were no fatalities or serious injuries in Israel as a result of projectiles fired from Gaza during those three days.

Israel sabotages ceasefire

Israel has a long history of deliberately sabotaging ceasefires reached with armed groups in Gaza, like that which ended a day of cross-boundary fire last week.

Israeli forces and Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza exchanged fire for one day following the death of hunger striking Palestinian prisoner and Islamic Jihad leader Khader Adnan last Tuesday.

During that day-long episode, 58-year-old Palestinian civilian died after Israeli bombing caused the ceiling of his home to collapse on him.

By targeting faction leaders on Tuesday, Israel has embarked on another war of choice in the repeatedly bombarded Gaza Strip, which has been under a comprehensive blockade since 2007.

Hours before the Israeli bombing campaign was launched, Eli Cohen, Israel’s foreign minister, spoke with his American counterpart Antony Blinken. During the call, the US secretary of state purportedly “noted the importance of recent meetings in Aqaba and Sharm El Sheikh aimed at de-escalating tensions,” according to a spokesperson.

Others took the timing of the bombing to mean the opposite of what the State Department claims – that instead of encouraging de-escalation, it gave Israel the green light to target Palestinian resistance leaders in Gaza.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s extreme-right national security minister, celebrated the bloodshed on Twitter, saying it was “about time!”

Ben-Gvir’s portfolio includes authority over the Israel Prison Service, which human rights groups blame for Khader Adnan’s death.

Ben-Gvir and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, have openly disagreed over Gaza, with the former seeking an even more hardline response to rocket fire than the latter.

The power struggle has raised questions “over the stability of the partnership between [Netanyahu’s] Likud and [Ben-Gvir’s] far-right Jewish Power party,” as columnist Mazal Mualem stated in the web publication Al-Monitor on Monday.

The Israeli military, police and armed civilians have killed 124 Palestinians so far this year, according to The Electronic Intifada’s tracking. That number includes Palestinians who died from injuries sustained previously.

Twenty Israelis and foreign nationals were killed by Palestinians during the same period, or died from injuries sustained last year.

Extrajudicial execution in Tulkarm

On Saturday, Israeli forces killed two Palestinians, identified as Samer al-Shafei and Hamza Kharyoush, both 22, during a raid in the West Bank city of Tulkarm.

Israel claimed that the men had carried out a shooting attack at a nearby settlement earlier in the week, injuring a civilian.

A graphic video shows al-Shafei and Khayroush laying on a tin roof, apparently lifeless, as Israeli troops search them, turning one over with his foot. The video does not show the troops attempting to provide first aid.

Eyewitnesses told Palestinian media that the soldiers left the men to bleed out and fired at them at close range to ensure they were dead.

The Tulkarm raid appears to be yet another Israeli extrajudicial execution operation in which the intent was to kill rather than apprehend the wanted men.

Last week, occupation forces killed three Palestinians who Israel claims were involved in a shooting attack that killed an Israeli woman and two of her daughters last month.

Netanyahu praised those who carried out the deadly raid on Thursday for “settling the score.”

Human rights groups have long protested Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy, saying that it is tantamount to a de facto death sentence, even though capital punishment is banned by that country.

“A soldier obeying orders”

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, has said that Netanyahu is responsible for “the transformation of police officers, and even of armed civilians, into judges and executioners” who shoot and kill Palestinians in the streets.

That deadly vigilantism, spurred by racist incitement by Israel’s top leaders, all but certainly factored into the shooting death of Diyar Omari, a 19-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel, on Saturday.

Israel claims that Omari was killed in the north of the country during a road rage dispute. But video of the deadly encounter shows Omari being attacked by an Israeli man identified as Denis Mukin, who is seen removing the teen from his vehicle and then opening fire at him as Omari attempts to get back into his car.

Mukin was reportedly arrested by Israeli police.

“Despite an assessment by Israeli police that Omari’s killing was not politically or nationalistically motivated,” the Israeli publication +972 Magazine reported, “there is an overwhelming sense among Palestinian citizens that Mukin, who had just finished his army reserve service, was quick to use his weapon as a result of the hyper-nationalist, anti-Arab atmosphere that has fermented in recent years.”

The publication added: “This atmosphere, they say, has been especially encouraged by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who recently called on Israeli civilians to bear arms and for reservists to be allowed to carry guns without a special license.”

“[Ben-Gvir] literally asked Jews to carry weapons and have their finger on the trigger — and that’s exactly what he did. He was a soldier who was obeying orders,” Ahmad Omari, Diyar’s father, told the online magazine.


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.