Several Gazan eyewitnesses have confirmed Israeli charges that rockets fired by the terror group Islamic Palestinian Jihad were responsible for fatalities and damage inside Gaza, after they fell short and landed back in the coastal enclave during three days of conflict earlier this month.
“I was with my wife and children in my house when we heard the sound of a huge explosion. Two minutes later, I looked out the window and saw a horrible scene. A house nearby was destroyed,” Abdul Rahman, a Jabaliya refugee camp resident who did not want his full name used for security reasons, told AFP a little over a week after the latest round of violence between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups.
One of the rockets launched at Israel “landed on the house,” he said.
Souha, another resident of Jabaliya, said that “it’s a war and there are mistakes of the occupation and the resistance,” a reference to Israel and Islamic Jihad.
“But the reason for the war is still the occupation,” added the woman, who “saw a rocket fall on [her] neighbors’ house.” She also preferred not to give her second name, for similar reasons.
Israel said it launched aerial and artillery fire on Palestinian Islamic Jihad positions on August 5, as a “preemptive” operation to stop an imminent cross-border attack. In three days of fighting, Islamic Jihad fired more than a thousand rockets, some of them deep into Israel, and Israeli air strikes targeted Islamic Jihad bases, stores, rocket launchers, and terror chiefs.
Most of the rockets fired from Gaza either hit non-populated areas or were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Some smashed into populated areas, where shrapnel wounded four people.
In Gaza, according to the enclave’s Hamas-run health ministry, 49 Palestinians were killed, 17 of them children, and more than 350 wounded.
PIJ Rocket Misfires, Lands in Gaza Neighborhood During Live Mayadeen TV Broadcast – Reporter Claims It Was Launched Towards the Sea, Asks Cameraman to Turn Camera Away pic.twitter.com/S9GwFmSs6L
— MEMRI (@MEMRIReports) August 8, 2022
Israel says roughly a dozen of the children killed in Gaza, and several of the other deaths of civilians, were caused by PIJ rockets falling short or misfiring, including in the Jabaliya camp. There, the IDF said, one errant Islamic Jihad missile was responsible for the death of at least four minors. The IDF published video and radar data to reinforce this charge.
The IDF said roughly 200 PIJ rockets failed to cross into Israel.
Israel said it targeted only terrorists and made every effort to spare civilians. The Associated Press reported that at least one strike, which killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in the southern city of Rafah late on August 6, also killed five civilians, as Israel flattened one home and heavily damaged others.
Even PIJ members acknowledged that the three-day escalation dealt a blow to their leadership.
The conflict exposed the frustrations of ordinary Palestinians in the poverty-stricken coastal enclave, blockaded by Israel and Egypt since 2007 to prevent weapon smuggling to Gaza terror groups.
In rare outspoken criticism, some Palestinians even publicly rebuked PIJ on social media for the errant rockets.
Muhammed Shehada, from the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, said the rockets that fell short were larger ones, built to hit the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv and beyond.
“They (Islamic Jihad) have tried to improve the range and explosive power of their rockets — but not with a solid scientific base,” said Shehada, an analyst from Gaza.
“The ones that went beyond 40 kilometers (25 miles) were not mechanically or technically savvy. They were the ones that fell back to Gaza,” he said.
Two rockets did reach the outskirts of Jerusalem, more than 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Gaza, but were intercepted by Israel.
The issue of the rockets has been one “of immense frustration and bitterness with the wider Gazan people,” he added.
The three-day escalation has also exacerbated divisions among Gaza’s Islamist rulers, Hamas, who, while publicly offering support to Islamic Jihad, stopped short of entering the fight.
Leaders of Hamas were furious at what they said was Islamic Jihad’s recklessness, a senior member in the West Bank told AFP.
“Hamas has offered repeatedly to Islamic Jihad to help design and improve the rockets, but Jihad always say they have it under control,” said Shehada.
Islamic Jihad’s leader Ziad Nakhaleh — speaking from Iran, where he was visiting when conflict broke out — declared victory in the battle.
In contrast to past conflicts, Islamic Jihad had little to show after the conflict ended in an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on August 7, Shehada said.
“Usually Hamas would agree on a ceasefire with some tangible deliverable to the people of Gaza,” he told AFP. “This doesn’t offer anything.”
Local resident Said Bessia pointed to a hole punched through concrete where a missile killed a Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander.
“This is where he was sitting,” Bessia said, referring to Tayseer Jabari, who was meeting several top fighters on the sixth floor of the Palestine Tower building on August 5.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the strikes “landed a devastating blow” that targeted the “entire senior military command” of the Iran-backed group in Gaza.
One senior Islamic Jihad leader told AFP that the commanders killed were replaced “within minutes,” but Ahmed al-Mudallal, from the group’s political bureau, acknowledged the impact.
“This round was difficult,” he told AFP. “We lost many major military leaders that were important to us.”
Mudallal’s son Ziad — an Islamic Jihad officer — was killed alongside senior commander Khaled Mansour in a strike in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah.
Mudallal vowed that the movement he helped found would recover.
It had lost other leaders before, he said. “And that never stopped the resistance of the people and the journey of jihad.”