Tensions are high in Gaza after Israel’s targeted assassination of an Islamic Jihad leader led to intense cross border fire between the territories, resulting in the death of more than 20 people, including children, and the injury of more than 70 others.
The violence began overnight on Monday when Israel launched airstrikes in both Gaza and Syria, targeting senior leaders of the Islamic Jihad group, prompting a barrage of rocket fire from Gaza and concerns that Israel was restarting its practice of targeted assassinations of Palestinian political figures.
Both Israeli and Islamic Jihad officials confirmed the killing of the group’s Gaza-based leader, 42-year-old Bahaa Abu al-Atta, along with his wife Asma. The group also claimed that two others, suspected to be the pair’s children, were injured in the attack.
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza reported on Monday afternoon that in addition to Abu al-Atta and his wife, three others were killed, and 30 others were injured, some critically. The deceased were identified as Mohammed Hamoda, 20, Zaki Ghanama, 25, and Ibrahim al-Dabous, 26.
Separately, Syrian state TV reported that Israel also conducted airstrikes in Damascus, targeting the home of another Islamic Jihad leader, Akram al-Ajouri.
Al-Ajouri allegedly survived the attack, though it was reported that his son and granddaughter were killed. Unlike the attack in Gaza, Israel did not confirm the attack in Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later said that the operation in Gaza was approved 10 days prior by the government’s security cabinet.
The attacks prompted dozens of rounds of retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza, and subsequent additional airstrikes from Israel, targeting Islamic Jihad posts across the coastal enclave.
By Wednesday morning, Israel had launched dozens of airstrikes on the small territory, with Gaza’s Health Ministry had reported 23 deaths, among them three children.
The Israeli military reported that over 190 rockets had been fired from Gaza into Israeli territory — though most were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, and no Israeli casualties were reported.
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened Islamic Jihad during a special cabinet meeting, saying “either stop these attacks or absorb more and more blows,” the Palestinian political faction insists that Israel, who initiated the first attack, is to be held responsible for the latest escalation.
“The response to this crime will have no limits,” Islamic Jihad said in a statement on Tuesday, saying the Israeli occupation was “the one responsible for this aggression.”
Senior leader of Islamic Jihad Ziad al-Nakhala said Israel “crossed all red lines” with the killing of Abu al-Atta, saying that his fighters “are going to war.”
Israel’s once commonplace policy of targeted assassinations of members of Palestinian political factions has been largely dormant in recent years, due to the exacerbation of tensions that often result in the aftermath.
While the assassination of Abu al-Atta was celebrated by Netanyahu and his supporters as a victory for Israel, critics of the premiere argue that the move was an attempt by Netanyahu, who has now failed twice to form a governing coalition, at bolstering political support.
“After months of top down ordered quiet from the resistance factions in Gaza, the timing of this targeted killing leaves no room for doubt that there was a political calculus,” regional political analyst Dawoud Yousef told Mondoweiss.
“Netanyahu’s primary talking point in both his re-election campaign, and therefore his campaign to keep himself out of jail, has been security,” Yousef continued.
Netanyahu, according to Yousef, was “surely aware of the blow back from this killing in regard to a response from the factions, so he knows that his response in managing this flare up will be critical.”
When asked if he believes the current tensions could devolve into another drawn out war on Gaza, Yousef said he thinks Netanyahu wants to “desperately avoid that.”
“A managed solution that demonstrates Israel’s ability to kill, and face no liabilities in terms of security, is the ideal outcome.”