Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 31 May 2020

Israel launches air strikes on Gaza and Syria after Palestinian rocket attacks

Islamic Jihad fired more than 20 rockets from Gaza throughout Sunday

An air strike is seen in the sky is seen in Damascus, Syria, in this handout released by SANA on February 24, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
An air strike is seen in the sky is seen in Damascus, Syria, in this handout released by SANA on February 24, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Israel said Sunday it struck bases of the Islamic Jihad militant group in Syria and the Palestinian territories, while Syria claimed that its air defences shot down "enemy missiles".

Israel launched air strikes on what defence forces claimed were sites occupied by extremist group Islamic Jihad in response to a barrage of rockets from the group aimed at Israel earlier in the day.

Israel rarely admits carrying out air strikes, but on Sunday evening said that fighter jets "struck Islamic Jihad terror targets south of Damascus," following rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

"In the Adeliyah region, outside of Damascus, an Islamic Jihad compound was struck, used as a hub of Islamic Jihad's activity in Syria," it added, while confirming a number of other strikes in Gaza.

The Israeli military added it had also struck "dozens" of Islamic Jihad targets throughout Gaza.

A military aircraft also fired at a group of men preparing to launch rockets near the border, the army said.

"A hit was identified," a statement said, with health officials in Gaza saying four people were wounded in the strikes.

Islamic Jihad said two of its fighters were killed in the strikes on Damascus.

Islamic Jihad, which along with allied group Hamas has fought three wars with Israel in Gaza since 2008 and is backed by Iran, was formed in 1979. The Palestinian faction’s leadership was based in Gaza until 1987 but then moved to Lebanon and later Syria, where it remains.

Earlier Sunday, more than 20 rockets and mortars were launched from Gaza towards Israel, setting off warning sirens in the southern city of Ashqelon and several other locations, the army said.

More than a dozen were intercepted by the state's Iron Dome missile defence system, the Israeli army said.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the rockets, calling them a response to the killing of one its fighters along the Gaza border early Sunday.

Israel said the man had been part of a cell seeking to plant an explosive device on the border fence.

A video later emerged on social media showing a bulldozer approaching a body while a group of young, apparently unarmed men, were trying to retrieve it.

The sound of gunfire is heard and the men ultimately run away as the bulldozer scoops up the body.

There were no reports of serious injuries from Sunday’s Islamic Jihad rocket attacks into Israel.

Estimates as to Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s membership are varied. The group claimed to have 8000 fighters in Gaza in 2011, but the US State Department puts the figure at closer to 1000.

In November 2019, the PIJ declared it would go to war, launching over 350 rockets into Israel, after Israel assassinated the group’s military commander in Gaza, Baha Abu Al Ata. The Israeli response killed 23 Palestinians, including PIJ field commander Khaled Moawad Faraj.

Updated: February 24, 2020 11:41 AM

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