- Rockets from Gaza have caused alarm in Israeli communities
- Cross-border fire after Israeli airstrike in the West Bank
- At least nine Palestinians were killed in the Israeli raid
- Violence has increased in the West Bank in the past year
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement in Gaza claimed responsibility for rockets fired into Israel overnight on Friday, in an international effort to ease tensions after a series of deadly raids in the occupied West Bank over the past year.
Israeli jets struck the Gaza Strip on Friday in retaliation for rockets that raised alarm in Israeli communities near the border with the blockaded southern coastal strip controlled by the Islamist group Hamas.
There were no reports of casualties on either side and no immediate signs of escalation into a more serious conflict of the kind seen repeatedly in recent years with Palestinian groups firing hundreds of rockets and Israel pounding Gaza.
The overnight talk came after an Israeli raid on a West Bank refugee camp on Thursday killed at least nine Palestinians, bringing the death toll to at least 30 in 2023.
The death toll, which included militant attackers and at least two civilians, in the West Bank is the highest in years, with another person killed in a separate incident in al-Ramme outside Jerusalem.
The raid, the latest in near-daily clashes in the West Bank over the past year, came days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to visit Israel and the West Bank. Washington urged both sides to remain calm.
In Gaza, thousands of supporters of Islamic Jihad rallied after Friday prayers to call for an intensification of the fight against Israel after the Jenin airstrikes.
“We didn’t sleep all night, the bombing and the rockets,” said 50-year-old Abdallah Al-Husary. “There is anxiety and fear, war could happen any minute. Any clash in the West Bank could lead to war at the borders of Gaza.”
In the Jabalia refugee camp, one of the movement’s leaders, Khaled Al-Batsh, claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks and said Israel could not isolate Gaza from the West Bank.
“The rocket unit of the Jerusalem Brigades responded,” he said.
The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad movement, which aims to overthrow Israel, operates in both West Bank centers such as Nablus and Jenin, as well as in Gaza, where it coexists with the larger and more powerful Hamas group.
August. Israeli jets bombed targets linked to the group in the Gaza Strip during a weekend confrontation that saw hundreds of Islamic Jihad rockets fired at Israel, most of which were intercepted by air defense systems.
In May 2021, a more violent conflict broke out in Gaza.
The Israel Defense Forces said Friday’s airstrikes in Gaza targeted an underground rocket production site and a military base used by Hamas.
Months of violence in the West Bank, which has escalated since a series of deadly attacks in Israel last year, have raised fears that the already unpredictable conflict could spiral out of control and lead to a wider Palestinian-Israeli confrontation.
The latest season of violence began under the previous coalition government and continued after the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing administration, which includes ultra-nationalist parties that want to expand settlements in the West Bank.
After Thursday’s raid, the Palestinian Authority, which has limited governing powers in the West Bank, said it was suspending a security cooperation agreement with Israel.
In the Jenin refugee camp, a densely packed mass of buildings and streets that has been a hub of militant activity and the target of repeated Israeli airstrikes, residents said Thursday’s operation penetrated unusually deep into the camp.
The two-story building at the center of the battle was badly damaged, and nearby houses were black with smoke. Elsewhere around the camp’s community center, cars were crushed by Israeli bulldozers used in the operation.
The US State Department issued a statement on Thursday saying it was “deeply concerned” by the violence in the West Bank and urged both sides to de-escalate the conflict.
The United Nations, Egypt and Qatar have also called for calm, Palestinian officials said.
Palestinian officials said CIA Director William Burns, who visited Israel and the West Bank on a trip organized before the latest violence, will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday. US officials in Jerusalem had no immediate comment.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned to power this year to lead one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history, said Israel was not seeking to escalate the situation, although he ordered security forces to be on alert.
Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta and Henriette Chacar in Jenin; Edited by Gerry Doyle and Edmund Blair
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