Israel had closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it braced for a revenge attack after the arrest of the Islamic Jihad leader in the occupied West Bank on Monday. A teenage member of the group was killed in a gun battle between the Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.
Israel and Hamas fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes in the 15 years since the militant group seized power in the coastal strip from rival Palestinian forces. The most recent war was in May 2021, and tensions again soared earlier this year following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited communities near Gaza earlier on Friday, saying authorities were preparing “actions that will remove the threat from this region,” without elaborating.
“We will operate with internal resilience and external strength in order to restore routine life in Israel’s south,” he said, “We do not seek conflict, yet we will not hesitate to defend our citizens, if required.”
Ahmed Mudalal, an Islamic Jihad official in Gaza, said the group had made demands of Israel through Egyptian mediators, including the release of the detained militant and another prisoner, a halt to West Bank raids and the lifting of the Gaza blockade. He said they had not yet received a response.
Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares its ideology. Both groups are opposed to Israel’s existence and have carried out scores of deadly attacks over the years, including the firing of rockets into southern Israel. It’s unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.