South girds for reprisals

Top Islamic Jihad terrorists killed as IDF bombs Gaza

Surprise attack sees Israel target Iran-backed group in Rafah and Gaza City days after flare-up; residents near Gaza told to enter shelters, schools closed.

Fire and smoke rise following an Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza Strip, late May 2, 2023. Photo: AP Photo/Fatima Shbair
Fire and smoke rise following an Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza Strip, late May 2, 2023. Photo: AP Photo/Fatima Shbair

Explosions ripped through Gaza early this morning as Israeli forces assassinated three senior members of the Islamic Jihad terror group, days after a short-lived but fiery flareup of violence set the restive region on edge.

Israeli residents of areas within 40 kilometres of Gaza were instructed to enter bomb shelters amid fears of reprisal attacks as sorties continued to thunder across the Strip. Previous strikes on Islamic Jihad leaders have sparked barrages of rockets on Israeli civilians and intense battles with Israeli troops, some lasting several days.

The Israel Defense Forces said it had assassinated Khalil Bahtini, who commands Islamic Jihad in northern Gaza, Jihad Ghanem, a top official in the group’s military council, and Tarek Izeldin, who it said directs Islamic Jihad terror activities in the West Bank from a base in Gaza.

The IDF began hitting targets in the Strip just after 2am in what appeared to be a coordinated surprise attack on the group’s senior leaders.

Witnesses said an explosion hit the top floor of an apartment building in Gaza City and a house in the southern city of Rafah. Palestinian media said several people were injured. There was no immediate confirmation from health authorities.

Dozens of strikes were reported across the Strip in the ensuing hours, sending fireballs skyward as aircraft buzzed overhead.

The Shehab news outlet, which is linked the Strip’s rulers from the Hamas terror group, reported at least six people were killed in the sorties, while Israeli reports cited a death toll as high as 10.

The army dubbed the campaign Operation Shield and Arrow.

The IDF’s Home Front Command issued instructions for residents of areas near Gaza to stay in or near bomb shelters. It instructed local authorities to open public shelters, and announced that access to some roads running near the enclave and some public facilities would be blocked.

It also ordered that school be cancelled in areas near Gaza as far away as Lachish and Beersheba. Outdoor gatherings were also banned, placing a damper on the minor Jewish holiday of Lag Ba’omer, which often features outdoor activities for kids.

Crossings between Israel and Gaza were shuttered as well.

The bombings came days after Gazan terrorists led by Islamic Jihad fired nearly three dozen rockets toward Israel in response to the death of an alleged senior member of the group who had been on hunger strike in Israeli prison. Several rockets struck Sderot during the May 2 clash, injuring three workers and damaging homes and cars.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under pressure from hardliners in his cabinet for a harsher response to Gaza in response to rockets, as well as to take offensive measures rather than only reacting to attacks.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir cheered the attack, tweeting “About time!”

The airstrikes are similar to one in August 2022 in which Israel bombed places housing commanders of Islamic Jihad, setting off a three-day blitz of rocket salvos and reprisal attacks. Israel said at the time that the initial attack was spurred by concrete threats of an imminent attack.

In 2019, an Israeli strike that killed an Islamic Jihad commander responsible for several brazen attacks sparked two days of fighting.

Times of Israel

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