Israeli airstrikes, Palestinian retaliation continue as hopes for a cease-fire fade

AP , Ahram Online , AFP , Friday 12 May 2023

The most violent confrontation in months between Israel and Palestinian resistance factions continued for a third straight day on Friday, as Israeli warplanes struck targets in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian resistance factions fired more rockets at Israel and hopes of securing a truce faded.

Beit Hanoun, Gaza
People sift through the rubble of a building hit in an Israeli air strike in Biet Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, on May 12, 2023. AFP


Two Palestinians were killed on Friday and at least five others were injured in an Israeli airstrike that targeted a residential apartment in al-Nasser neighborhood to the west of Gaza city, reported by the Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Earlier on Friday, a Palestinian man died from critical injuries sustained in an Israeli airstrike on the northern Gaza Strip, according to medical sources at Indonesia Hospital. The 38-year-old was injured during the israeli airstrike on Thursday night that killed another man aged 22. 

​Sirens warning of incoming fire meanwhile rang out in Israeli communities close to the border with the Gaza Strip, as well as blaring in an Israeli settlement near Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank. 

Islamic Jihad has retaliated to Israel attacks with over 800 rockets fire toward densely populated parts of Israel. ​The resistance movement said the latest rocket fire, seen by AFP journalists, was a "response to the assassinations and the continued aggression against the Palestinian people". It came after a rocket killed one civilian in the central Israeli city of Rehovot the night before. 

Violence broke out very late on Wednesday when Israel killed 21 Palestinians, among them children and women while saying it was trageting three top members of the Islamic Jihad militant group. Subsequent strikes have killed two other senior figures.

On Thursday night, Israeli fighter jets targeted a location near the electric power plant to the north of Nuseirat refugee camp, killing one and injuring several others, including critical injuries, and causing a power outage that left the area in darkness. 

Gaza residents reported explosions in farms near the southern city of Rafah. A burst of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip sent air raid sirens wailing near Israel's southern border Friday, breaking a 12-hour lull that had raised hopes that Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations could soon be able to broker a cease-fire.

The ongoing Israeli airstrikes against the besieged Gaza Strip, have resulted in the deaths of 31 Palestinians, at least 19 of them were children, according to the United Nations. Over 95 Palestinians were also injured, the Palestinian Health Ministry reported.

Israeli bombs and shells have destroyed 47 housing units, and damaged 19 so badly they were uninhabitable, leaving 165 Palestinians homeless, Gaza’s housing ministry reported. In addition, nearly 300 homes sustained some damage.

Daily life in the coastal territory, ruled by Hamas, has largely come to a standstill, while Israel has told its citizens near Gaza to stay close to bomb shelters.

Home 'seriously shaking'

In Gaza's central Deir al-Balah area, farmer Belal Basher stood beside the ruins of the home he said was hit by multiple Israeli strikes.

"Our situation is the same as that of any Palestinian citizen whose house is targeted and whose dream, built over the years, is destroyed," the 33-year-old told AFP.

Palestinians on Friday surveyed the wreckage wrought by the fighting.

“The dream that we built for our children, for our sons, has ended,” said Belal Bashir, a Palestinian living in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, whose family home was reduced to a heap of rubble in an airstrike late Thursday. He and his family would have been killed in the thundering explosion if they hadn’t ran outside when they heard shouting, he said.

“We were shocked that our house was targeted,” he added as he pulled his young children’s dolls and blankets from a bomb crater.

The decision to renew air strikes on Gaza this week was authorized by Israeli occupation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned to power in December alongside extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies.

In Lebanon, rallies were held in solidarity with Gaza in multiple refugee camps hosting Palestinians.

"Resisters, strike Tel Aviv," protesters chanted in Saida, home to the country's largest refugee camp, according to an AFP photographer.

This week's escalation is the worst since August, when 49 Gazans were killed in three days of fighting between the resistance movement Jihad and Israel.

That conflict followed multiple wars fought between Israel and Hamas since the group took control of Gaza in 2007.

An Israeli blockade imposed since then has made it impossible for the vast majority of 2.3 million residents to leave Gaza, where poverty and unemployment are rife.

Ramping up diploatic efforts

The civilians deaths have drawn condemnation from the Arab world and concern from the United States and Europe. In its past four wars against Gaza, Israel has repeatedly faced accusations of war crimes due to the high civilian death tolls and its use of heavy weapons against the crowded enclave. 

Hamas, the de facto civilian government in Gaza, has sought to maintain its truce with Israel while attempting to keep abysmal living conditions in the blockaded enclave from spiraling since a devastating 11-day war in 2021 that killed over 260 Palestinians. The resistance group, which control Gaza since 2007, has sat out this round of fighting — as it did a similar burst of violence last summer. 

Both sides had seemed on the brink of a cease-fire before the eruption of Thursday's violence. Friday's relative calm boosted hopes of progress.

Hamas officials told local media that Egypt was ramping up its diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting through “intensive contacts” with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Jihad figures have sent mixed signals about the cease-fire talks. Senior official Ihsan Attaya complained early Friday that the mediators “have been unable to provide us with any guarantees.” A sticking point has been Jihad's demands that Israel cease its policy of targeted killings, Attaya said.

Jihad political bureau member Mohamad al-Hindi sounded more optimistic. From Cairo, where he traveled Thursday to hash out the details of a possible truce, he told media that he hoped both sides “would reach a cease-fire agreement and honor it today.”

The airstrikes and rockets have shifted the focus of conflict back to Gaza after months of surging violence in the occupied West Bank under Israel's most right-wing government in history.

Israel has been carrying out near-nightly arrest raids in the West Bank that have killed 109 Palestinians so far this year — the highest such death toll in two decades. At least half of the dead are affiliated with militant groups, according to a tally by The Associated Press. At least 20 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis during that time.

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