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Tensions escalated further after the Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip


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Israeli-Palestinian tensions escalated after the first launched multiple airstrikes on the Gaza Strip early Thursday.

Palestinian armed groups in the besieged area responded by firing rockets, in the latest wave of unrest in the region.

The night attacks – which the Israeli military confirmed in a statement at 02:41 am (12:41 GMT) – came hours after the army intercepted a rocket fired from Palestinian territory.

Emergency services reported no immediate injuries on either side.

According to local security sources and eyewitnesses, the first round – at least seven strikes – hit a training center of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian movement Hamas. The center is in Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

Another round of air raids targeted the Al-Qassam Brigades training center, southwest of Gaza City.

An Israeli army statement said that fighter jets “bombed a site for the production, preservation and storage of raw chemical materials, as well as a weapons manufacturing site” belonging to Hamas.

The strikes came “in response to the firing of a rocket from the Gaza Strip at Israel earlier” on Wednesday.

After the strikes, AFP correspondents and eyewitnesses saw new rocket barrages fired from Gaza, and new explosions were heard from Gaza City at around 3:15 am (01:15 GMT).

The unrest comes after rockets were fired across the border from the Gaza Strip last week in retaliation for a deadly Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank and a shooting attack outside a synagogue in annexed East Jerusalem on Friday that killed seven civilians.

The attack on the Jewish Sabbath was the deadliest targeting Israeli civilians in more than a decade, and was celebrated by many Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, where the bloodshed is also escalating.

Last week, Israeli forces killed 10 people from the Jenin refugee camp in their deadliest raid in the West Bank in nearly two decades.

Israel said Islamic Jihad militants were the target of the operation.

Gaza, densely populated with a population of 2.3 million, has been under an Israeli blockade since Hamas took power in 2007.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – a secular Palestinian armed group – announced Thursday after the airstrikes that it had carried out a “barrage of rockets…in response to the Zionist aggression on the Gaza Strip”.

Sirens sounded in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, close to the Gaza Strip, according to the military.

Siege of Jericho

Earlier Wednesday, an alarmed Israeli Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, said the recent spate of rocket fire was due to his decision to close two makeshift bakeries run by Palestinian militants in Israeli prisons.

He described bakeries as part of the unjustified “benefits” to which “terrorists” are exposed.

“The release from Gaza will not weaken my resolve to continue working to change the conditions of the summer camp for terrorist killers,” the minister said.

The escalating violence has affected much of the West Bank, with 2022 the deadliest year since the United Nations began tracking those killed in the occupied territories in 2005.

Some 235 people died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last year, with nearly 90% of those killed on the Palestinian side, according to AFP figures.

In January alone, Israeli forces killed 35 Palestinians, including alleged attackers and militants and civilians, while Friday’s attack in East Jerusalem killed six Israelis, including a child and one Ukrainian.

A Palestinian governor on Wednesday accused Israel of putting Jericho – a tourist destination near Jerusalem in the West Bank – under a “siege” after Saturday’s shooting at a restaurant without causing casualties.

“This is the fifth day of the siege of Ariha,” the governor of Ariha, Jihad Abu Al-Assal, told AFP.

The Israeli army told AFP it had reinforced its forces in the area and “increased inspections at the city’s entrances and exits.”

An AFP correspondent said that cars were kept at the city’s entrances, and checks to enter and exit the city often take hours.

The horizon of hope is diminishing

During a recent visit to the region to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on both sides to take “urgent steps” to restore calm.

The armed group Islamic Jihad said it will send a delegation headed by its leader Ziyad al-Nakhala to Cairo on Thursday at the invitation of Egypt.

Daoud Shehab, a prominent member of the movement in Gaza, said that the delegation would meet with the Egyptian intelligence chief to discuss “how to restore calm, especially after the recent escalation, including the assault on prisoners.”

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