UPDATED: Israel kills Islamic Jihad commander, Palestinians renew rocket barrage

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Israel killed a senior Palestinian militant commander in Gaza on Monday in air strikes which it said also targeted underground tunnels used by Hamas, and Islamist groups renewed rocket attacks on Israeli cities.

The violence entered a second week with no sign of an end to the fiercest hostilities in the region in years, despite growing international concern and mounting calls for a ceasefire.

The death of Hussam Abu Harbeed, Islamic Jihad’s armed commander for north Gaza, was likely to draw a fierce response from the militant group that is fighting alongside Hamas, the Islamist movement that governs the coastal enclave.

The Israeli military said in a statement that Harbeed had been “behind several anti-tank missile terror attacks against Israeli civilians,” and an Israel general said separately that his country could carry on the fight “forever”.

At least three Palestinians were also killed by an Israeli air strike on a car in Gaza City on Monday, medics said, after a night of heavy Israeli air strikes. Israel’s military said Gaza militants had fired about 60 rockets towards Israeli cities overnight, down from 120 and 200 the two previous nights.

Another Palestinian was killed in an aerial attack on the town of Jabalya, medics aid, and Gaza health officials put the death toll since the hostilities flared last week at 201, including 58 children and 34 women. Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children, Israeli authorities say.

After rockets were fired from Gaza at the Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon, Israeli jets bombed what the military said were 15 km (nine miles) of underground tunnels used by Hamas. It also struck nine residences belonging to high-ranking Hamas commanders, it said.

With the sounds of Israeli bombardment continuing throughout the morning, some Gaza residents rushed to bakeries and drugstores to stock up on bread and other essentials.

“My children couldn’t sleep all night even after the wave of intensive bombing stopped,” said Umm Naeem, 50, a mother of five, as she shopped for bread in Gaza City. “What is happening to us is too much, but Jerusalem deserves all the sacrifices.”

Palestinian civil defense search for people between the rubble of a destroyed houses after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City. EPA-EFE/MOHAMMED SABER

A number of people were lightly injured after a rocket hit a building in the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod, police said.

After a rocket hit a synagogue in the coastal city of Ashkelon, one resident, Osher Bugam, said: “We have to continue the war until there is long-term ceasefire – (one) that is not temporary.”

‘WAR OF ATTRITION’

Hamas began its rocket assault last Monday after weeks of tensions over a court case to evict several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near the city’s al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

World concern had already deepened after an Israeli air strike in Gaza that destroyed several homes on Sunday and which Palestinian health officials said killed 42 people, including 10 children, and persistent rocket attacks on Israeli towns.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, whose country is a strong ally of Israel, called for tensions to deescalate after speaking to Egypt’s foreign minister on Sunday. U.S. President Joe Biden said his administration was working with all parties towards achieving sustained calm. Brigadier General Yaron Rosen, a former Israeli air division commander, gave no indication on Monday there would be a let-up in attacks in what he called a “war of attrition”.

“The IDF (Israeli military) can go with this forever. And they (Hamas) can go on with their rockets, sadly, also for a very long time. But the price they are paying is rising higher and higher,” he told reporters.

The Israeli military said at least 130 Palestinian combatants had been killed since fighting began. Harbeed had been a commander with Islamic Jihad for 15 years and was behind an attack on the first day of hostilities last week, it said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the weekend the United Nations was “actively engaging all sides toward an immediate ceasefire”.

The United States said on Sunday it had made clear to Israel, the Palestinians and others that it was ready to offer support “should the parties seek a ceasefire”.

Jordan’s King Abdullah said his kingdom was involved in intensive diplomacy to halt the bloodshed, but gave no details.

The Israeli military said Hamas, a group regarded by Israel, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist movement, and other armed factions had fired about 3,150 rockets from Gaza over the past week. Israel’s missile defence system intercepted most of them, it said.

Hamas said its attacks were in retaliation for Israel’s “ongoing aggression against civilians”.

The Israeli military said civilian casualties were unintentional and that its jets attacked a tunnel system used by militants, which collapsed, bringing the homes down. Hamas called it “pre-meditated killing”.

Photo: Smoke rises as a result of Israeli air strikes against Hamas targets as seen from the Israeli side of the border to the Gaza strip on 17 May 2021. EPA-EFE/ATEF SAFADI