Israeli air strikes martyr 26 Palestinians in Gaza

A plume of smoke rises above buildings during an Israeli strike east of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 11, 2023. — AFP
  • Several children also among those martyred by Israeli air strikes.
  • France, Germany, Jordan and Egypt call for an end to violence.
  • Security delegation from Cairo to hold ceasefire talks with Israel.

Israel and Palestinians traded more heavy fire Thursday, the third day of the worst escalation of violence in months that has resulted in the martyrdom of 26 people in the blockaded Palestinian enclave — Gaza.

Air strikes by the Israeli army since Tuesday have martyred freedom fighters as well as civilians, including several children, said officials in the crowded coastal territory.

Cairo mediated in efforts towards a truce between Israel and the Islamic Jihad group, while France, Germany, Jordan and Egypt called for an end to the violence.

“The bloodletting must end now,” said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock after hosting her three counterparts for talks in Berlin.

The Israeli military has claimed that more than 550 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel, causing no casualties so far.

Of these, over 440 rockets made it over the border and at least 154 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system, while one in five fell inside Gaza, it said.

Shops in Gaza were shuttered and the streets largely abandoned as Israeli military aircraft circled over the territory where several buildings lay in ruins.

The Islamic Jihad confirmed it has lost five military leaders in strikes in recent days, including Ahmed Abu-Deka.

Abu Deka was the deputy of Ali Ghali, the commander of a rocket launch unit killed by Israel earlier on Thursday.

The Gaza health ministry said a man had been martyred in southern Gaza, with the Islamic Jihad confirming it was Abu Deka.

Fresh rockets at southern Israel followed the Israeli strike, AFP correspondents said.

Another group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said four of its freedom fighters had been martyred.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said he had instructed the security establishment “to take all the measures necessary, to prepare additional actions and maintain readiness for the possibility of increased fire”.

‘Wave of escalation’

In Gaza City’s Al-Rimal district, Mamoun Radi, 48, said: “We hope that the wave of escalation will end, but we support revenge for the martyrs.

“Israel assassinated a leader of [Islamic] Jihad at dawn today because it does not want calm.”

Across southern Israel, sirens wailed intermittently through the night and Thursday morning.

Miriam Keren, 78, an Ashkelon resident, said a Gaza rocket had destroyed a workshop and damaged her house.

“All the shrapnel is in the room; the house was shaken very powerfully, the glasses fell, the walls were damaged,” she told AFP.

“Luckily I have a safe room and I entered it immediately and closed the door.

“This isn’t the first time the house was hit but I’m not afraid, neither was I yesterday. You’re shocked for a moment but it’s not about fear. It’s more unpleasant, very unpleasant.”

Ceasefire efforts

An Islamic Jihad source told AFP that senior member Mohammad al-Hindi, head of the group’s political department, would arrive in Cairo on Thursday for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials.

An Egyptian source meanwhile told AFP that a security delegation from Cairo would be in Tel Aviv later Thursday for talks with Israeli officials on a ceasefire.

Israeli officials confirmed Egypt’s involvement in attempts to facilitate understandings between the sides toward halting the hostilities.

On Thursday, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said, “We stand by Israel’s right to defend itself”, and that Washington was engaged in efforts “towards a quick deescalation”.

Both Hamas, which rules Gaza, and the Islamic Jihad are considered terrorist groups by Israel and the United States.

This week’s Gaza violence is the worst since a three-day escalation in August martyred 49 Palestinians, with no Israeli fatalities.

Violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli army has staged repeated raids against militants which have often flared into street clashes or gun battles.

On Thursday, a Palestinian died from his wounds after being shot by the Israeli army in a raid the day before in the West Bank city of Qabatiya, the Palestinian health ministry said.

The conflict has escalated since veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power late last year heading a coalition with extreme right and ultra-Orthodox parties.

Israel has also been shaken by its biggest domestic political crisis in decades as mass protests have flared against plans to reform the justice system, spearheaded by Netanyahu who is also battling corruption charges in court.

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