As Palestinians were preparing for their weekend this Thursday afternoon, all of a sudden barrages of Israeli artillery fire and air raids by warplanes struck several regions of the Gaza Strip. Five Palestinians were killed and about thirty more injured.
Israeli shells struck farm land, homes, a mosque and an ambulance, and the injured were evacuated to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Kamal Adwan hospital in northern Gaza and the Abu Yousif al-Najjar hospital in southern Gaza.
At the admissions department at al-Shifa hospital, Muhammad al-Madhoun, a journalist, told The Electronic Intifada how he was injured by a huge explosion as he sat at a relative’s home in the al-Saftawi neighborhood in northern Gaza.
“All of a sudden, we heard an explosion and saw pillars of smoke. Then I felt I had a big strike on my head, then I saw nothing and put my hand on my back to find blood. I fell down on the floor and awoke to find myself at the hospital,” al-Madhoun said, surrounded by medical staff.
Sources at the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City said that they received six injuries earlier this afternoon; among them were two women and several children.
“Many of those wounded [have] moderate to light [injuries]. More than ten of the wounded are children. In the southern city of Rafah, Israeli shelling hit a mosque and caused the injury of 14 persons, including women and children. Israeli shells also hit an ambulance, wounding two crew members,” Adham Abu Silimiya, spokesperson for the ambulance service in Gaza, told The Electronic Intifada.
Israeli air strikes struck residents’ homes in eastern Gaza, a government building in northern Gaza and underground tunnels in southern Gaza.
Israel launched the attacks following the injury of two Israelis, including a teenager, when a missile fired from Gaza struck a bus in Israel. The Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for Israel’s 1 April extrajudicial killing of three Hamas members in Gaza.
The latest violence follows weeks of escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel, which Israeli analysts say has been fueled and instigated by Israel.
Earlier this week Dawood Shehab, a spokesperson for the Islamic Jihad, an armed Palestinian group in Gaza, told The Electronic Intifada that the Palestinian resistance groups are in self-defense mode as Israel continues to carry out attacks on the coastal region.
“I do not believe that Israel needs excuses to attack us. The Palestinian resistance is not concerned about escalation on the ground, yet Israeli actions against the resistance factions oblige them to defend themselves and their lands. Israel always uses false allegations or lies against the Gaza-based resistance factions in order to continue striking the territory and garner international backing for its heinous actions,” Shehab said at his office in Gaza City.
Shehab was referring to Israel’s killing of the three Hamas men, who Israel claimed were involved in a plot to kidnap Israelis from Egypt during the Jewish Passover holiday in late April: “We in the Palestinian resistance have nothing to do with lands other than Palestinian lands and I believe that the Israeli allegations … were meant only to justify the killing.”
The killing of the three Hamas operatives came after Gaza-based Palestinian resistance factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad had agreed to a ceasefire, following days of Israeli attacks that had left more than a dozen Palestinians dead and dozens more injured.
After today’s attacks Hamas announced that it, along with all other resistance factions would observe a unilateral ceasefire from 11pm Gaza local time. However, as with previous Palestinian ceasefire offers, there was no indication that Israel would accept it.
Witnesses said Thursday that the Israeli army beefed up its presence along its boundary with Gaza, bringing in more armored vehicles and artillery. This comes against the backdrop of Israeli threats to massively attack the Gaza Strip.
According to Israeli media reports, an Israeli army spokesperson was quoted as saying that the army is weighing a larger attack on Gaza, in response to what the spokesperson described as rocket fire from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, a Palestinian Authority spokesperson condemned the latest Israeli military actions against the Gaza Strip. Nabil Abu Rudaina, spokesman for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, said that Abbas had called from Cairo — where he is holding meetings with the Egyptian leadership — for international bodies to pressure Israel to refrain from attacking the occupied Gaza Strip.
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.