Israel hits Gaza as the conflict ignites after clashes in the West Bank

  • The rockets from Gaza have caused reverberations in Israeli communities
  • Cross-border fire following the Israeli raid in the West Bank
  • The Israeli raid killed at least nine Palestinians
  • Violence escalated in the West Bank last year

JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – The Islamic Jihad group in Gaza claimed responsibility on Friday for firing rockets into Israel overnight, amid international efforts to defuse tensions following one of the deadliest raids in the occupied West Bank in years.

Israeli planes bombed the Gaza Strip on Friday in retaliation for the rocket fire, which raised alarm bells in Israeli communities near the border with the besieged southern coastal enclave controlled by the Islamist group Hamas.

There were no reports of casualties on either side, and there was no immediate sign of an escalation into a more serious conflict of the kind that has been seen time and time again over recent years with Palestinian groups firing hundreds of rockets and Israel bombing Gaza.

Last night’s exchange came in the wake of an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the West Bank on Thursday that killed at least nine Palestinians, bringing the number of Palestinian deaths so far in 2023 to at least 30.

The deaths, which included militants and at least two civilians, resulted in the highest single-day death toll in the West Bank in years, while another man was killed in a separate incident in Al-Ram, outside Jerusalem.

The raid, the latest in a series of near-daily clashes in the West Bank over the past year, came days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Israel and the West Bank. Washington called on both sides to calm down.

In Gaza, thousands of Islamic Jihad supporters rallied after Friday prayers, calling for an escalation of the fight against Israel in the wake of the Jenin raid.

“We didn’t sleep all night, bombardment and missiles,” said Abdullah al-Husari, 50. “There is anxiety and fear, at any moment a war could break out. With any clash in the West Bank, there could be a war along the border in Gaza.”

In the Jabalia camp, Khaled al-Batsh, one of the movement’s leaders, claimed responsibility for the missile strikes and said that Israel could not isolate Gaza from the West Bank.

“The missile unit of the al-Quds Brigades responded,” he added.

Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed movement dedicated to the overthrow of Israel, is active in both volatile centers in the West Bank such as Nablus and Jenin as well as Gaza, where it is located alongside the larger and more powerful Hamas.

In August, Israeli jets bombed targets in Gaza linked to the group during a weekend standoff that saw hundreds of Islamic Jihad missiles fired at Israel, most of which were intercepted by air defense systems.

There was violent conflict in Gaza in May 2021.

The Israeli military said Friday’s air strikes in Gaza targeted an underground rocket manufacturing site and a military base used by Hamas.

‘deeply concerned’

Months of violence in the West Bank, which escalated after a series of deadly attacks in Israel last year, has raised fears that an already unpredictable conflict could spiral out of control, sparking a broader confrontation between the Palestinians and Israel.

The latest season of violence began under the previous coalition government and continued after the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a new right-wing administration that includes ultra-nationalist parties that want to expand settlements in the West Bank.

In the wake of Thursday’s raid, the Palestinian Authority, which has limited governing powers in the West Bank, said it would suspend security cooperation arrangements with Israel.

In the Jenin refugee camp, a densely populated block of buildings and alleyways that has been a hub of militant activity and a target of frequent Israeli raids, residents said Thursday’s operation made an unusually deep push into the camp.

A two-storey building at the center of the fighting was badly damaged, while nearby houses were blackened by smoke. In another area around the camp’s community center, Israeli bulldozers crushed cars used in the operation.

The US State Department issued a statement on Thursday saying it was “deeply concerned” by the violence in the West Bank and urged both sides to de-escalate the conflict.

Palestinian officials said the United Nations, Egypt and Qatar also called for calm.

Palestinian officials said CIA Director William Burns, who was visiting Israel and the West Bank on a trip arranged before the latest violence, would meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday. It was not immediately possible to obtain comment from US officials in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned to power this year at the head of one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history, said Israel is not looking to escalate the situation, though he has ordered security forces to be careful.

Additional reporting by Ari Rabinowitz and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, and Ali Sawafta and Henriette Chakar in Jenin. Editing by Gerry Doyle and Edmund Blair

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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