Fighting Between Israel and Islamic Jihad: Where Things Stand

Fierce cross-border fighting resumed on Friday between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza, with the Israeli military killing another of the group’s top commanders in a missile strike on a residential building after rockets fired out of Gaza reached as far as the hills around Jerusalem.

The Israeli military identified the person killed on Friday as Iyad al-Husni, the commander of Islamic Jihad military operations in the Gaza Strip. Along with holding a senior position as a military decision-maker, the military said, Mr. al-Husni had replaced Khalil Bahitini, a leader of the group’s operations who was killed in Israel’s opening assault on Tuesday.

The Israeli military said another of the group’s operatives was also killed in Friday’s strike. Islamic Jihad’s military wing announced that Mr. al-Husni had been killed. Palestinian health officials confirmed that another person was killed in the Israeli strike and that five more were injured.

Israel also said on Friday that it had struck command centers and rocket-launching sites operated by the militant group as the latest confrontation stretched into a fourth day, despite overnight mediation efforts to reach a cease-fire.

Israel temporarily suspended its participation in Egyptian-led cease-fire talks on Friday, officials said, after Islamic Jihad — which is classified by Israel, the United States and many other Western countries as a terrorist organization — had launched rockets toward Jerusalem.

But by Friday night the talks were on again and both sides were mulling a new Egyptian proposal to stop the fighting without preconditions, according to a diplomat informed about the contacts.

Previous attempts at reaching a cease-fire were complicated by conditions dictated by Islamic Jihad, including an Israeli commitment to halt assassinations. Reluctant to accede to demands made by the group, Israeli officials stuck to their usual formula, saying that quiet would be answered with quiet.

Israel had already killed five Islamic Jihad commanders since the hostilities erupted on Tuesday. On Friday the military expanded its targets to include what it described as command centers of the group, several of which appeared to be in houses in residential areas across the Palestinian coastal enclave.

The militant group has responded to Israeli attacks by firing nearly 1,000 rockets and mortar rounds into Israel from Gaza over the past few days, the Israeli military said.

At least 33 Palestinians have been killed in all, six of them children, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Friday. At least half of them appeared to be civilians. The ministry said that more than a hundred Palestinians had also been injured.

A rocket fired from Gaza on Thursday evening struck a residential building in Rehovot, a city in central Israel. One person was killed in that attack, Israeli officials said — the first casualty on the Israeli side in the several days of fighting. Five more people were injured in that rocket attack, according to Israel’s ambulance service.

The fighting, Israel’s third confrontation with Islamic Jihad in Gaza since last summer, began with the targeted assassinations of three of the militant group’s top commanders. Ten civilians, four of them children, were also killed in those initial airstrikes, according to Palestinian officials.

Israel has said that the Islamic Jihad commanders it targeted were responsible for firing rockets into Israel, including more than 100 projectiles that the group fired out of Gaza on May 2.

Islamic Jihad has responded to the Israeli attacks by firing rockets into southern and central Israel.

Israel’s military has also conducted scores of airstrikes against Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza over the past few days, killing more of the group’s senior commanders.

Egypt and other regional powers have been pressing the two sides to agree to a cease-fire. But after several hours of calm early Friday, it became clear that those efforts had not succeeded, as the cross-border exchanges resumed.

The sides had appeared close to a cease-fire earlier as well, on Wednesday night, but hopes of a deal faded the next day as the fighting surged again.

Despite the mediation efforts, both sides vowed on Thursday to fight on if necessary.

“Whoever harms us will pay the price, as will his replacement,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said. “We are in the midst of a campaign of both offense and defense,” he added.

Islamic Jihad said in a statement that “The enemy continues its crimes against those who are safe in their homes, and it will pay the price for that.”

Hamas, the larger Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, has voiced its support for Islamic Jihad’s actions, and on Thursday praised the strike that resulted in the Israeli death.

Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official, described the strike as retaliation for the assassination of the two Islamic Jihad commanders on Thursday and for other Israeli “crimes.”

But Israeli officials say that Hamas has not actively joined in the rocket launching itself, a factor that could limit the scope of hostilities.

Hamas, which bears responsibility for the population of more than two million Palestinians in Gaza, has been less eager to engage in fighting with Israel over the past year since Israel issued almost 20,000 permits for Gazans to work in Israel.

Gaza is a largely impoverished territory that operates under a strict air, land and sea blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Millions of Israelis in areas within range of the rocket fire have been told to stay close to safe rooms and shelters.

Israel’s air defense systems intercepted most of the other rockets that appeared headed toward population centers, although a few slipped through and caused damage to several houses.

In Gaza, schools and many businesses have been closed this week. Israel also shuttered its schools within a 25-mile radius of the Gaza border and closed its border crossings with the enclave, preventing the passage of people or goods.

Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting from Gaza City and Hiba Yazbek and Jonathan Rosen from Israel.

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