Israel launched fresh strikes against Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza, the army said early Friday, weakening a ceasefire put in place after fighting this week killed 34 Palestinians in exchanges of fire.
The ceasefire began Thursday morning following two days of deadly violence in the Gaza Strip triggered by an Israeli strike on an Islamic Jihad commander.
But Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said in a WhatsApp message to reporters that new overnight strikes were under way on Islamic Jihad, the second most powerful Palestinian militant group in Gaza after Hamas.
“The IDF is currently striking Islamic Jihad terror targets in the Gaza Strip,” it said.
It came after five rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza — also after the ceasefire came into effect — with two of them intercepted by air defences, according to the army.
During the day on Thursday, normal life had resumed quietly in Israeli regions near the Gaza border, while in Gaza, citizens had also embraced the return of a relative calm.
“We hope for peace, we don’t want war,” said Mahmoud Jarda, an inhabitant of the enclave.
The ceasefire brokered by Egyptian and UN officials, the usual mediators between Gaza and Israel, was agreed as the flare-up raised fears of a new all-out conflict in the territory.
The escalation began early Tuesday with Israel’s targeted killing of a top Islamic Jihad commander, Baha Abu al-Ata, whom it accused of being behind rocket fire and other attacks.
The violence came at a politically sensitive time for Israel, with no new government in place since a September election ended in deadlock.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abu al-Ata “was killed alongside dozens of terrorists” after the strike on his home, adding: “Our enemies got the message: We can reach anyone, even in their bed.”
That strike triggered almost immediate retaliatory rocket fire from Islamic Jihad at Israel, setting off air raid sirens and sending Israelis rushing to bomb shelters in the country’s south and central regions.
Israel’s military had said some 450 rockets had been fired at its territory since Tuesday morning and air defences had intercepted dozens of them in fireballs high in the sky.
No Israelis were killed, though one rocket narrowly missed speeding cars on a busy highway. Israeli medics said they had treated some 63 people as of Wednesday night for mild injuries and stress.
Israel responded with air strikes, saying it targeted more Islamic Jihad militant sites and rocket- and missile-launching squads.
Islamic Jihad had said several more of its members were among those killed in the fighting this week.
Palestinian officials said eight members of the same family, including five children, were killed in an Israeli strike in Deir al Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
Israel’s military said the man targeted and killed in that strike was an Islamic Jihad rocket unit commander.
“He, like many others, had the tactic of hiding ammunition and military infrastructure in their own residence,” said military spokesman Jonathan Conricus.
“Of course we try always to minimise the amount of non-combatants killed or injured.”
But relatives, neighbours and an Islamic Jihad spokesman disputed that he belonged to the militia, with some saying he had previously worked as a Palestinian Authority (PA) military police officer.
PA employees have not worked in Gaza since the Hamas takeover in 2007 but continued receiving salaries.