Palestinian death toll in Gaza rises to 24, most of them terrorists

Palestinian death toll in Gaza rises to 24, most of them terrorists

Hamas-run ministry says 3 children among dead; Israeli military indicates most fatalities had been launching rockets

Relatives of Islamic Jihad terrorist Abdullah Al-Belbesi, 26, who was killed in Israeli airstrikes, at his funeral in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, November 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Relatives of Islamic Jihad terrorist Abdullah Al-Belbesi, 26, who was killed in Israeli airstrikes, at his funeral in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, November 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Israeli strikes on Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip killed 14 people on Wednesday morning, according to the enclave’s Hamas-run authorities, including at least four members of the Iran-backed terror group and two children, bringing the total death toll there since Tuesday morning to 24.

Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip resumed firing rockets into southern and central Israel after dawn Wednesday after a brief overnight respite in the violence. The Iron Dome system intercepted several of the projectiles, and there were no reports of injuries or damage in Israel.

Israel’s targeted killing before dawn Tuesday of Islamic Jihad terror chief Baha Abu al-Ata was met with over 250 rockets launched throughout Tuesday and Wednesday morning by terror groups in Gaza, the military said.

The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday renewed its retaliatory strikes against terror targets in the Strip.

The Gaza health ministry, run by terror group Hamas, which rules the Strip, did not provide details on most of the 14 Palestinians killed in the renewed fighting Wednesday, but said three of them were children, without specifying their ages.

Palestinian youths look for salvageable items amid the rubble of a house destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 13, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigades identified four of them as its members. One was Alaa Ishtawi, 32, who they said died in an Israeli strike in the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City while he was “confronting the Zionist aggression.”

Another was named as Khaled Farraj, 38, who allegedly died in an Israeli strike in the central Gaza Strip. He was said to have been a commander. No details were published about what he was doing when he was hit.

The two others, identified as 28-year-old Suheil Qaneita and 26-year-old Momen Qadoum, were said to have been killed in separate Israeli strikes in Gaza City.

Four more people were killed in an airstrike near a mosque in Gaza City, including reportedly a father and two sons. Reports in Hebrew-language media as well as Palestinian social media accounts named those killed as Rafat Ayyad and his young sons Eslam and Amir.

The Hamas-linked Shehab news website reported later that two more Palestinians were killed in an Israeli strike on a motorcycle in the Shejaiya neighborhood in Gaza City, without offering more details.

One person, identified as Raed al-Sarsari by the health ministry, suffered critical wounds, with staff at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City attempting to resuscitate him.

At least 12 of the 21 killed in the current confrontation have been confirmed to be members of terror groups. The IDF has not given out exact numbers, but it has indicated that the number of slain terror operatives in the death toll is far higher.

Sixty-nine Palestinians in the coastal enclave have been wounded during that time frame as well, the Hamas ministry said.

Israelis take cover during an air-raid warning siren in Sderot, southern Israel, November 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Since Tuesday, two people in Israel have been wounded directly by rocket fire, both of them sustaining light injuries from shrapnel. In addition, 23 people were lightly wounded after falling while running to a bomb shelter and 23 others were taken to the hospital after suffering anxiety attacks and other “stress symptoms” due to the attacks, the Magen David Adom ambulance service said.

An eight-year-old girl collapsed suddenly, apparently from a heart attack, while hiding in a bomb shelter during a rocket attack on the city of Holon. She remained in serious condition on Wednesday.

The renewed violence came as Islamic Jihad vowed to avenge the killing of Abu al-Ata, the group’s terror chief in the Strip. Senior Islamic Jihad officials on Tuesday evening said the “real response” to Abu al-Ata’s elimination had yet to come.

“The coming hours will speak for themselves,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Breim told the Islamic Jihad-linked Palestine Today news site.

Israeli students walk past a battery of Iron Dome missile defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, neighbouring the Palestinian Gaza Strip, on November 12, 2019. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

There was no statement from either side on a ceasefire, though Egyptian and UN officials on Tuesday night said were pushing for one.

According to the IDF, Abu al-Ata was the true “senior commander” of the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, having ordered the group to carry out most of the significant rocket and border attacks from the Palestinian enclave in recent months and planning to carry out more.

He was also identified by Israel as the primary obstacle to a long-term ceasefire agreement with Hamas and the other terror groups in the Strip.

Hamas, a terror group that openly seeks Israel’s destruction, has yet to enter the fray — a possible sign the current round of violence could be brief. Although larger and more powerful than Islamic Jihad, Hamas is seen as less hardline. With Gaza’s economy in tatters, it appears to have little desire for more fighting with Israel.

Israel has notably been refraining from conducting strikes against the terror group, the de facto rulers of the Strip. In general, the IDF’s modus operandi has been to attack Hamas targets in response to any violence emanating from the Strip, as it considers the terror group to be the sovereign of the enclave.

Israel and Gaza have engaged in several sporadic rounds of violence over the last two years as the sides attempted to reach a long-term ceasefire.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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