West News Wire: Early on Thursday, Israel began airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, to which Palestinian forces responded by firing rockets, sparking the latest round of violence in the area.
The nightly strikes come hours after the Israeli army successfully shot down a rocket launched from Palestinian land, according to a statement released at 02:41 am (0041 GMT) by the Israeli army.
There were no recent casualties on either side, according to emergency services.
At least seven attacks in the first wave, according to local security officials and witnesses, were directed at a training facility for the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed branch of the Palestinian resistance organisation Hamas. In the heart of the Gaza Strip, in the Al-Maghazi refugee camp, is the center.
Southwest of Gaza City, the al-Qassam Brigades’ training facility was struck by more airstrikes. The Israeli army claimed fighter jets had “struck a production site for raw chemical material production, preservation and storage along with a weapon manufacturing site” belonging to Hamas.
The strikes came “in response to the rocket launch from the Gaza Strip into Israel earlier” Wednesday.
After the strikes, AFP reporters and witnesses saw new rounds of rockets fired from Gaza, and fresh explosions could be heard from Gaza City around 3:15 am (0115 GMT).
The unrest comes after cross-border rocket fire from the Gaza Strip last week in retaliation to a deadly Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank in Jenin which killed up to 10 Palestinians, and a shooting attack at an illegal Israeli settlement in the annexed east Jerusalem on Friday that killed seven.
Israel said Islamic Jihad militants were the target of the deadly operation.
Gaza, densely populated with 2.3 million people, has been under an illegal Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) a secular Palestinian armed group said Thursday after the air strikes to have carried out “a barrage of rockets in response to the Zionist aggression on the Gaza Strip”.
Earlier Wednesday, far-right and fundamentalist Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said the recent bout of rocket fire was due to his decision to close two makeshift bakeries operated by Palestinian militants in Israeli prisons.
He called the bakeries part of the unwarranted “benefits” that “terrorists” were subject to.
“The launch from Gaza won’t weaken my resolve to continue working toward changing the summer camp conditions of murderous terrorists,” the minister said.
The escalating violence by Israel has affected much of the occupied West Bank, with 2022 the deadliest year there since the United Nations started tracking fatalities in the occupied territory in 2005.
According to AFP figures, some 235 people died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last year, with nearly 90 per cent of the fatalities on the Palestinian side.
In January alone, Israeli forces killed 35 Palestinians, while the Friday attack in east Jerusalem killed six Israelis.
The regional Palestinian governor on Wednesday accused Israel of putting Jericho – a tourist destination near Jerusalem in the West Bank – under “siege” after a Saturday shooting at a restaurant, which had no casualties.
“This is the fifth day of the siege on Jericho,” governor Jihad Abu al-Assal told AFP.
Israel’s army told AFP it had boosted its forces in the area and “inspections were increased at the city’s entrances and exits”.
An AFP correspondent said cars were backed up at entrances to the city, with checks to get in and out of the city often taking hours.
During a recent visit to the region to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for both sides to take “urgent steps” to restore calm.
Washington has no contact with Hamas, which it considers a “terrorist organisation”.
The Islamic Jihad said it would send a delegation led by the group’s leader Ziad al-Nakhala to Cairo on Thursday at Egypt’s invitation.
The delegation would meet with the head of Egypt’s intelligence service to discuss “how to restore calm, especially after the last escalation, including the aggressions against prisoners”, said Daoud Shihab, a senior Islamic Jihad member in Gaza.