A Palestinian laborer from the Gaza Strip working in Israel was killed and another was seriously hurt in a Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket strike in southern Israel on Saturday afternoon, medical officials said, with the latest round of hostilities between Israel and the terror group continuing for a fifth day as ceasefire talks stalled.
An Israeli man was also moderately hurt in the attack.
The rocket attack came after Islamic Jihad vowed to renew the bombardment of Israeli cities following fresh airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, and with no imminent signs of a ceasefire. Israel’s national security adviser said the goals of what Israel has called Operation Shield and Arrow were achieved in its first few seconds early on Tuesday, when the IDF killed three Islamic Jihad commanders, but that Israel had to continue targeting Islamic Jihad in Gaza because the terror group was continuing to fire on Israel.
Ceasefire efforts have appeared to founder over Islamic Jihad’s demand that Israel halt targeted strikes on its leaders — a demand Israel has made clear it will not accept.
“In the face of the continuation of the assassinations and the bombing of apartments and safe houses, the Palestinian resistance will renew its missile bombardment of the occupied cities,” the Al-Quds Brigades said in a statement, adding that “the resistance has prepared itself for months of confrontation” with Israel.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said it treated two of the wounded men near the southern border town of Shokeda, while a third was picked up by medics at the entrance to the city of Netivot.
They were taken to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, which said it was treating a 35-year-old and a 40-year-old in serious condition due to shrapnel injuries, and a 39-year-old man in light-to-moderate condition. The 35-year-old man, a Palestinian laborer from the Gaza Strip at work in Israel, later died of his wounds, the hospital said.
He was later identified as Abdullah Abu Jaba, a father of six. He was alongside his brother, who was seriously wounded in the attack and undergoing surgery at Soroka.
הפועל מעזה שנהרג מפגיעת רקטה בחממות באזור שוקדה הוא עבדאללה ג'בריל אבו גבה (35). אחיו חאמד (40) עובר כעת ניתוח מורכב להצלת חיים בבית החולים סורוקה בבאר שבע.
השומר עואד איברהים אבו סבילה (39), תושב אבו תלול בנגב, ניצל לאחר שהסתתר מתחת לטרקטור. מצבו קל-בינוני והוא ישוחרר מחר. pic.twitter.com/RM2T7FjOTy
— Yasser Okbi (@OkbiYasser) May 13, 2023
A defense source told The Times of Israel that the two seriously wounded men — including the man who later died — were Palestinians from the Gaza Strip working in Israel with a permit, while the third was a Bedouin Israeli man.
Many Palestinian laborers have been stuck in Israel since early Tuesday, when the military launched Operation Shield and Arrow with simultaneous airstrikes that killed three Islamic Jihad commanders along with some of their wives and children as they slept in their homes. Israel said it was retaliating for a barrage of rocket fire launched last week by Islamic Jihad following the death of one of its West Bank members, Khader Adnan, from a hunger strike while in Israeli custody.
The Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings have remained closed since, with Israeli authorities saying they would not be able to open following mortar attacks.
“The rocket fire at the crossings, as well as the failed rocket fire, harms the residents of the Gaza Strip,” said a joint statement by the Defense Ministry and the military’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
The Israel Defense Forces meanwhile said it had identified a dramatic decrease in attempts by Islamic Jihad terrorists to launch mortar shells at southern communities.
“We detected a 50 percent reduction in attempts to launch mortars into Israeli territory, compared to previous rounds against Islamic Jihad,” said Lt. Col. “Ayin,” the commander of the IDF Gaza Division’s so-called “fire center,” which coordinates the unit’s offensive operations.
The officer, who can only be identified by his rank and initial of his name in Hebrew, said the unit has so far foiled eight attempts by Islamic Jihad cells or individuals to carry out anti-tank guided missile attacks on the border during the current escalation.
He said the successful efforts against Islamic Jihad were a result of isolating the area near the border — by closing off certain roads that are exposed to ATGM fire — quick response times against cells planning attacks, and cooperation with the Shin Bet security agency, Military Intelligence and Air Force.
Islamic Jihad continued to fire rockets on Saturday, mostly toward southern towns, but some projectiles set off alarms as far as Ashdod and towns in the Shfela region of central Israel.
The IDF also continued to carry out airstrikes against Islamic Jihad targets, hitting at least ten command centers used by the terror group to plan and carry out rocket attacks on Israel, as well as dozens of rocket and mortar launching sites.
Many of the command centers hit by the IDF over the past few days have been located within residential buildings, leading the military to notify residents to clear the area before it carries out the strike.
National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said Israel was focused on striking Islamic Jihad and not currently engaged in ceasefire talks.
Speaking at a cultural event in Mevasseret Zion, Hanegbi touted the “unprecedented” operation in Gaza over the past several days, noting the killing of numerous top PIJ members.
“The Egyptians are trying, as is always their habit,” he said, referring to Cairo’s efforts to broker an end to the fighting. “They want to stop the violence and prevent an escalation. That’s also our interest.”
He also said Israel achieved its goals “in the first seconds” of the operation, referring to the initial assassination of three senior Islamic Jihad officials.
“Everything that’s been going on since requires us to act because they’re firing on us,” Hanegbi added.
Israel and Islamic Jihad were weighing a new ceasefire proposal submitted by Egypt on Friday night, but there were no reports of further progress as of Saturday afternoon.
According to various media reports, Islamic Jihad was dissatisfied with the Egyptian proposal, calling for a ceasefire without further commitments from Israel to drop its pursuit of the terror group’s leaders.
On Tuesday, Israel killed three top members of the Islamic Jihad group, while subsequent strikes have killed three other senior figures, including one on Friday afternoon.
Islamic Jihad has demanded that Israel halt assassinations, a proposal Jerusalem has rejected outright.
Israel generally avoids confirming ceasefire agreements with terror groups, but several previous rounds of fighting between the IDF and Gaza have come to a close with international mediation and indirect talks.
Talks were also set back on Thursday a rocket slammed into a Rehovot home, killing an Israeli woman — the country’s first fatality in the current conflict. She was named on Friday as Inga Avramyan, 80. Her husband was also with her and was wounded in the attack.
At least 33 people in Gaza have been killed since Israel launched the offensive, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, and at least 111 more injured.
Military officials have said Israel has killed at least 18 terror operatives but admit the IDF was responsible for the deaths of 10 civilians during the initial strikes, which destroyed residential structures where families were sleeping. Officials believe some Gaza civilians have been killed by Palestinian rocket misfires.
Gazan fighters, who began firing rockets in response to the bombing on Wednesday afternoon, had launched at least 1,234 projectiles during the conflict as of Saturday morning.
According to the military, at least 976 of the projectiles crossed the border, while 221 fell short in Gaza — with some of them believed to have killed four Palestinians.
The IDF said air defense systems — Iron Dome and the medium-range David’s Sling — intercepted 373 of the rockets, marking a 91 percent interception rate of projectiles heading for populated areas. Several rockets have landed within towns, killing one and injuring several others, as well as causing extensive damage.
The rest landed in open areas without causing damage, according to the IDF. Most rockets targeted towns in southern Israel, but some reached as far north as Tel Aviv.
The military also said it had carried out strikes against 371 targets belonging to Islamic Jihad during the campaign.
Military chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said Islamic Jihad’s continued rocket fire on Israel allowed the IDF to “make further achievements” in the ongoing campaign against the terror group.
“We have made significant accomplishments throughout this campaign. Since the opening strike, these accomplishments have only been increasing, both in number and scale. The Islamic Jihad terrorist organization’s continued fire enables us to continue to make further achievements,” Halevi said after an assessment on Saturday with the IDF’s top brass and other defense officials.
“We are prepared to continue the targeted strikes and striking in a precise and increasing manner, as we have done over the last few days,” Halevi added.
Israeli officials have insisted that they are keeping the fight limited to Islamic Jihad and not the larger and better-armed Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, hoping to avoid widening the conflict.
A senior diplomatic source, however, asserted the current fighting between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad showed “the weakness” of Hamas, in an apparent effort to prod Gaza’s rulers to rein in the Iran-backed terror group.
The source said in a statement to reporters that Hamas has long prevented other factions from “dictating policies” in Gaza, but that Islamic Jihad “has taken control of the agenda” there.
“More than anything, this shows the weakness of Hamas, which is being dragged by PIJ into an unnecessary round [of fighting],” the source said. “If Hamas doesn’t set a red line for PIJ and force it to stop the [rocket fire], this will be evidence of a changing balance of power in the Strip.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.