A region on edge

Top Islamic Jihad terrorists killed in Gaza strikes

At least 13 people were killed including civilians, as the Israeli Air Force assassinated three senior members of the Islamic Jihad terror group.

A man inspects the damaged house of terrorist Jihad Ghannam, killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah on May 9. Photo: Said Khatib/AFP
A man inspects the damaged house of terrorist Jihad Ghannam, killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah on May 9. Photo: Said Khatib/AFP

Explosions ripped through Gaza on Tuesday morning as the Israeli Air Force assassinated three senior members of the Islamic Jihad terror group, days after a flare-up of violence set the region on edge.

The Israel Defence Forces said it had assassinated Khalil Bahtini, who commands Islamic Jihad in northern Gaza, Jihad Ghannam, a top official in the group’s military council, and Tareq Izz ed-Din, who it said directs terror activities in the West Bank from Gaza.

At least 13 people were killed in the bombings, including four children and four women, according to the health officials in the Hamas-controlled territory.

In the strike killing Izz ed-Din, his nine-and 10-year-old children Ali and Mayar were killed. Bahtini’s five-year-old daughter Hajar was killed, along with his cousin Laila. In the strike on Ghannam, his wife Wafa was killed.

Five others from two families living near the targets also lost their lives. Dentist Jamal Khaswan was killed with his wife Mirvat and son Yousef. His 10-year-old daughter Diala survived. Sisters Dania, 19, and Eman, 14, were killed.

Islamic Jihad confirmed the three terror leaders were among the dead. The spokesman for the terror group’s military wing later vowed to respond to their deaths.

Israelis within 40 kilometres of Gaza were instructed to enter or stay near bomb shelters amid fears of reprisal attacks.

The IDF said Bahtini was “entrusted with approving and carrying out all terrorist activities from northern Gaza, as well as planning and directing terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians and planned rocket attacks against Israel in the immediate future”.

Ghannam was a key liaison for transferring money and weapons between Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the IDF said.

Izz ed-Din was also involved in moving money between Gaza and the West Bank for terror activities, the IDF said. He had been previously jailed in Israel for involvement in suicide bombings in the early 2000s.

Dozens of strikes were reported across the Strip in the ensuing hours, sending fireballs skyward as the army targeted terror training sites.

The army dubbed the campaign Operation Shield and Arrow.

On Tuesday afternoon, an additional Israeli strike targeted an Islamic Jihad squad in Khan Younis that sought to carry out an attack against targets on the Israeli border. The Hamas-run health ministry said two men were killed and two were wounded in the strike.

Shortly after, Palestinian media outlets reported a second airstrike against a “resistance site” in central Gaza. The IDF did not immediately comment on the reports.

The bombings came days after Gazan terrorists, led by Islamic Jihad, fired 104 rockets at Israel in response to the death of an alleged senior member of the group who had been on hunger strike in Israeli prison.

Opposition and coalition lawmakers expressed their backing of the military operation. President Isaac Herzog hailed the IDF, while calling on Israelis to follow the military’s instructions.

Anticipating a spiralling conflict lasting several days, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant okayed the army to call up reserve troops.

“We must be prepared for any scenario, including a prolonged campaign,” Gallant said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his high-level security cabinet later on Tuesday.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party said it was ending its boycott of government activity – motivated by its displeasure with the handling of security issues – following the Gaza strikes.

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland condemned the “unacceptable” killing of civilians in Gaza. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh slammed what he called a “horrific massacre”, and called on the UN to take action. Jordan and Egypt also issued stark condemnations.

Meanwhile, the IDF conducted arrest raids across the West Bank on Monday night and Tuesday morning, detaining eight wanted Palestinians.

The IDF said Palestinian rioters hurled stones at forces during the operation in Nablus’s Old City, and gunmen opened fire and set off explosives. One soldier was lightly hurt.

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry reported a 14-year-old boy was wounded by IDF gunfire.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Times of Israel

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