Six said killed in Israeli strikes on Islamic Jihad sites in Syria

Terror group acknowledges 2 of those killed were members; UK-based war monitor says 4 other pro-Iran fighters died in IDF attack, in response to rocket fire at southern Israel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

An Israel airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, February 23, 2020. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Illustrative. An Israel airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, February 23, 2020. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Six Iran-linked fighters were killed in Israeli retaliatory airstrikes on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Syria late Sunday night in response to several waves of rocket fire on southern Israel throughout the evening, according to a Britain-based Syrian war monitor.

The Islamic Jihad terror group, which is supported by Tehran, acknowledged that two of those killed as members of the organization. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor, the other four people killed in the strike were pro-Iran fighters from unspecified militias.

Islamic Jihad identified its slain members as Salim Salim, 24, and Ziad Mansour, 23. It did not disclose their nationalities or elaborate on their roles. The militant group vowed to respond to the deaths of its members.

The Israel Defense Forces launched the strikes after the Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip fired some 30 rockets at southern Israel, approximately half of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, according to the military.

In addition to the strikes on Islamic Jihad facilities south of Damascus, the IDF said it also targeted a number of the terror group’s bases inside Gaza, razing at least one of them to the ground, according to Palestinian media.

The military said it also bombed a group of Islamic Jihad fighters preparing to launch rockets from northern Gaza, reportedly injuring four of them.

The smoke trail of a rocket, fired by Palestinian terrorists, flying over the Gaza Strip, on February 23, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Though the fighting died down in the early hours of Monday morning, the IDF Home Front Command issued a series of precautionary directives for southern Israel in case of renewed fighting throughout the day, closing schools, banning large outdoor gathering, blocking roads and halting train service.

Israeli military surveillance footage of two alleged Palestinian Islamic Jihad members planting what appears to be a bomb along the Gaza border on February 23, 2020. (Screen capture: Israel Defense Forces)

Sunday’s rocket fire came after an irregular clash along the Gaza border earlier in the day in which Israeli troops shot dead a member Palestinian Islamic Jihad as he planted an improvised explosive device along the border. The Israeli military then retrieved his body, using a bulldozer — an incident that was filmed and shared on Palestinian social media, drawing public outrage.

The IDF said the strikes in Syria and Gaza were in response to both the morning’s attempted IED attack and the rocket fire throughout the evening.

“The IDF will respond aggressively to the terrorist activities of the Islamic Jihad, which endanger the citizens of Israel and harm its sovereignty,” the military said in a statement on Sunday night.

The IDF said its fighter jets targeted the main base of the Iran-backed terror group in Syria, which it said was used to develop new weapons and to manufacture “tens of kilograms of [ammonium perchlorate]” rocket fuel each month.

The military said the site, in the Damascus suburb of al-Adleyeh, was also used for training exercises for members of the organization “both from the Strip and on the northern front,” referring to Lebanon and Syria.

Syrian state media outlet SANA reported that the incoming Israeli attacks triggered the country’s air defenses, which it said intercepted many of the incoming missiles, an oft-heard Syrian claim that most defense analysts dismiss as a false boast.

Israel rarely acknowledges conducting airstrikes in Syria, save for those that are in retaliation to attacks coming from there.

An Israeli airstrike in Gaza City early Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

In November, Israel fought a punishing two-day battle with the Islamic Jihad, sparked by the IDF killing one of the terror group’s leaders — Baha Abu al-Ata — whom Israel believed was responsible for most of the group’s aggressive actions.

During that round of fighting, the IDF reportedly targeted one of the group’s senior leaders — Akram al-Ajouri — who lives in Syria, but missed him.

Damage to a car in the city of Ashkelon that was reportedly caused by shrapnel from a rocket interception on February 23, 2020. (Courtesy)

Islamic Jihad and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine took responsibility for Sunday’s rocket attacks. The Islamic Jihad wrote on its website that it fired the rockets in response to Israel taking its operative’s corpse earlier in the day.

The rocket fire on southern Israel did not cause any physical injuries, though many health care professionals in Israel have also warned of the significant psychological damage from the panic and fear caused by these attacks.

In at least three cases, shrapnel from interceptions over populated areas caused light property damage — to a garden in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, to a car in the city of Ashkelon and to a home in the town of Sderot.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and senior members of Israel’s security services met in the military’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv on Sunday night to discuss both a response to the attack and the situation in the Gaza Strip in general.

The border clashes come amid reports of ongoing efforts by Israel to broker a ceasefire agreement with Gaza terror groups, following weeks of intermittent rocket fire and the regular launching of balloon-borne explosive devices into Israel.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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