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November 16, 2019

Israel pounds Gaza


November 16, 2019

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Israel launched fresh strikes against Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza early on Friday in response to rocket fire, underscoring the fragility of a ceasefire agreed after an escalation that killed 34 Palestinians.

The ceasefire began on Thursday morning following two days of fighting triggered by Israel’s targeted killing of an Islamic Jihad commander. The Israeli military said it carried out new strikes overnight against Islamic Jihad, the second most powerful Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas.

They came after at least seven rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, two of which were intercepted by air defences. The military said it "views the violation of the ceasefire and rockets directed at Israel with great severity."

It said it was prepared to "continue operating as necessary against all attempts to harm Israel civilians". Two wounded Palestinians were being treated in hospital in the southern part of the territory, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

The ceasefire brokered by Egyptian and UN officials, the usual mediators between Gaza and Israel, was agreed as the flare-up raised fears of a new all-out conflict. During the day on Thursday, normal life had resumed quietly in Israeli regions near the Gaza border, while in the blockaded enclave residents had also embraced the return of relative calm.

"We hope for peace, we don’t want war," said Mahmoud Jarda, an inhabitant of the enclave. To keep a lid on tensions, Palestinians cancelled weekly protests along the Gaza-Israeli border that have often led to violence since March 2018.

At least 311 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza or the border area since then, most of them during demonstrations and associated clashes. The escalation began early on Tuesday with Israel’s targeted killing of a top Islamic Jihad commander, Baha Abu al-Ata, whom it accused of being behind rocket fire and other attacks.

The violence came at a politically sensitive time for Israel, with no new government in place since a September election ended in deadlock. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abu al-Ata "was killed alongside dozens of terrorists" after the strike on his home, adding: "Our enemies got the message: We can reach anyone, even in their bed."

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