Israel had closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it prepared for a revenge attack following the capture of the Islamic Jihad leader in the occupied West Bank on Monday. A teenage member of the group was killed in a battle between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.
Israel and Hamas have 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 flared again earlier this year following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a holy site in Jerusalem.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited communities near Gaza earlier Friday, saying authorities were preparing “actions to remove the threat from this area,” without elaborating.
“We will operate with internal resilience and external strength to restore routine life in southern Israel,” he said, “We do not seek conflict, however we will not hesitate to defend our citizens if necessary.”
Ahmed Mudalal, an Islamic Jihad official in Gaza, said the group had made demands from Israel through Egyptian mediators, including the release of the detained militant and another captive, an end to raids on the West Bank and the lifting of the blockade of Gaza . He said they have not yet received a response.
Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas, but shares much of its ideology. Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out dozens of deadly attacks over the years, including firing rockets into southern Israel. It is unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.