The Israel Defense Forces claimed it targeted a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist in an airstrike on a house in the central Gaza Strip that killed a Palestinian family of eight on Thursday morning, in what later emerged to have been a false statement.
IDF Arabic-language spokesperson Avichay Adraee said the strike targeted the head of the Islamic Jihad’s rocket unit, whom he identified as Rasmi Abu Malhous, including a photograph purporting to show him.
However, no such figure exists in the Islamic Jihad organization, IDF officials later told the Haaretz newspaper, and Adraee’s claim appeared to have been based off false rumors that were spread on civilian channels on the Telegram application.
AFP reported on Friday that Islamic Jihad said Malhous was “known as a person affiliated with Islamic Jihad but he was not a commander”.
According to Haaretz, which broke the story, the home that was targeted in the overnight strike had been identified in the past as a Palestinian Islamic Jihad-controlled site, but this information had not been confirmed recently and appeared to be out of date. Neighbors of the family killed in the strike said they were not involved with the terror group.
Palestinian officials said 12 others were wounded in the airstrike. The Hamas-run Health Ministry had earlier said all of the fatalities in the strike were civilians.
The incident came as Palestinian terrorists continued to fire rockets into Israel despite talk of an imminent ceasefire.
— افيخاي ادرعي (@AvichayAdraee) November 14, 2019
The Gaza Health Ministry said the dead included women and children.
Phone video shot by someone living nearby being circulated on social media showed neighbors and emergency workers frantically digging through the debris in search of bodies following the Thursday morning strike.
It was the deadliest incident since the beginning of the current fighting and brought the death toll on the Palestinian side to 32. Israel has said most of those killed were terrorists, and indeed the majority have been identified by terror groups as their members.
Terrorists in Gaza continued to fire rockets into Israel after midnight Wednesday even as an Israeli official indicated that Jerusalem was nearing a ceasefire agreement with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.
“Quiet will be answered with quiet, and actions in the field will be the deciding factor,” the diplomatic official said, on condition of anonymity.
After midnight sirens were triggered several times in Ashdod, Ashkelon and the surrounding communities. A local official said five rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome, although there was no immediate confirmation from the IDF
Shortly before midnight sirens were triggered in Rehovot, Ashdod, Gedera, Yavne and the surrounding communities, sending hundreds of thousands of Israelis rushing to bomb shelters.
However, the IDF said that just one rocket was fired and intercepted over Israel, but its trajectory, together with shrapnel from the interceptor, set off multiple warnings.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said one person was sustained light injuries after he fell while running to a bomb shelter.
Earlier on Wednesday night, several rounds of rocket barrages were fired at the cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, north of Gaza, causing no injuries but a small amount of damage.
In response to these rocket attacks, the Israel Defense Forces launched a series of strikes against PIJ targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night, bombing a command center and a military base in the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, as well as a training base used by the terror group’s naval commando unit, which was also used to store weapons, according to the IDF.
The anonymous diplomatic official said the late Wednesday night rocket fire by the terror group appeared to be an effort to make it seem as though the past two days of fighting were a success.
“The Islamic Jihad wants a ceasefire and therefore it is trying to create a false presentation of achievements. The Jihad’s demands prove that Israel’s operations were a success. The IDF killed 20 terrorists and significantly harmed the Jihad’s capabilities,” the official said.
This round of fighting began at 4 a.m. on Tuesday, when the Israeli Air Force carried out a precision strike on a building in the Shejaiya area of Gaza City where Abu al-Ata was located, killing him and his wife, in a joint operation by the IDF and Shin Bet security service.
In response, the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad began firing rockets and mortar shells at southern and central Israel, causing significant property damage, but relatively few injuries.
According to the IDF, over 360 projectiles were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, with the majority of them landing in open fields. Dozens of rockets were also launched toward Israel but failed to clear the border and landed in the Strip.
Soldiers operating the Iron Dome air defense system intercepted approximately 90 percent of the rockets heading toward populated areas, the military said.
Three Israelis were directly wounded by the rockets, including a 70-year-old woman who sustained moderate injuries on Wednesday when she was struck by glass shards from a window in her apartment that exploded as a projectile hit. The other two people sustained light injuries from shrapnel, medics said. In addition, dozens of people were lightly hurt after they fell while running to bomb shelters.
In response to the rocket attacks, the IDF conducted multiple rounds of airstrikes in Gaza, targeting PIJ facilities, including underground tunnels, command centers, training bases and weapons factories, as well as squads of terrorist operatives preparing to launch rockets at Israel.
In total,32 Palestinians were killed in these Israeli strikes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, including Abu al-Ata and his wife, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. A seven-year-old boy and two teenagers were also killed, the ministry said.
The majority of those killed were identified as members of terror groups, mostly the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The secretary-general of the Islamic Jihad, Ziad al-Nakhala, said his group laid out its list of demands for a truce to Egyptian moderators.
“We gave specific conditions for a ceasefire,” he told the pro-Hezbollah Al Mayadeen TV station in an interview on Wednesday night. “If Israel accepts them, we will accept a ceasefire.
“If Israel does not accept them, we are going to continue to fight for an open period of time.”
Al-Nakhala said the group’s “simple and humble” demands were: an end to assassinations of terror leaders in Gaza and the West Bank; IDF troops not firing at innocent civilians at Friday border protests; and Israel abiding by the understandings regarding Gaza reached in Cairo during previous ceasefire negotiations.
In the past year, both the Egyptian General Intelligence Services and UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov have been involved in brokering multiple unofficial armistices between Israel and the Gaza terror groups.
These agreements generally provide some reconstruction resources to Hamas in exchange for an end to active hostilities.
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, Adam Rasgon and Agencies contributed to this report