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Israel strikes Gaza homes of Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants, killing commanders and their children

At least 13 killed in Israeli airstrike
Israeli airstrike kills at least 13 Palestinians in Gaza, officials say 04:03

Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes in the Gaza Strip early Tuesday targeting Islamic Jihad leaders and facilities, the Israeli military said. The Palestinian militant group said three of its senior commanders were killed, along with members of their families, as they slept in the early morning hours when their houses were struck. 

Palestinian officials said 13 people were killed in the morning strikes in total, including at least four children and four women, including the wives and some neighbors of the the Islamic Jihad militants.

Family members and media crowd around the bodies of four children and one women, all family members of Islamic Jihad militant group commanders who were also killed, in Gaza City, in the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip, May 9, 2023, after Israeli airstrikes killed a total of 13 people, according to Palestinian officials. CBS/Marwan Alghoul

Israel's military said it had targeted the residences of three senior commanders of the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, along with weapons and a cement manufacturing facility used to make smuggling tunnels. Witnesses reported explosions on the top floor of an apartment building in Gaza City and a house in the southern city of Rafah. Airstrikes continued into the early hours of Tuesday.

The Israeli army said the aerial bombings, codenamed "Operation Shield and Arrow," targeted Khalil Bahtini, the Islamic Jihad commander for northern Gaza Strip; Tareq Izzeldeen, the group's intermediary between its Gaza and West Bank members; and Jehad Ghanam, the secretary of the Islamic Jihad's military council. It said the three were responsible for recent rocket fire toward Israel.

The airstrikes come as tension boils between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the militant Hamas group. The tension is linked to increasing violence in the occupied West Bank, where Israel has been conducting near daily raids for the past months to detain Palestinians suspected in planning or carrying out attacks on Israelis.

CBS News' Marwan Alghoul said the more than half of a million inhabitants of Gaza City were jolted awake at about 2 a.m. to the sound of the first strikes as two homes in the city were struck. Alghoul said Islamic Jihad confirmed that its three leaders, along with their wives and some of their children, were killed, and the group quickly vowed a harsh response to the assassinations.

Israel Palestinians
A Palestinian man inspects damage to his building following Israeli airstrikes on an apartment of an Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza City, May 9, 2023. Fatima Shbair/AP

In anticipation of Palestinian rocket attacks in response to the strikes, the Israeli military issued instructions advising residents of communities within 25 miles of Gaza to stay close to designated bomb shelters. 

In a worrying sign that the crossfire could escalate, an umbrella group of Palestinian armed factions led by Gaza's Hamas rulers issued a statement mourning those killed in Tuesday's airstrikes and warning that Israel should be held "fully responsible for the repercussions of this cowardly crime." Hamas has fought multiple wars with Israel, and if it decides to retaliate on behalf of the wider Palestinian factions it could draw much wider strikes on targets across Gaza by Israeli forces. 

"The occupation and its leaders who initiated this aggression must prepare to pay the price," said the statement from the Gaza resistance factions' joint operation room.  

Last week, militants in Gaza fired several salvos of rockets toward southern Israel, and Israeli military responded with airstrikes following the death of a hunger-striking senior member of the Islamic Jihad in Israeli custody. The exchange of fire ended with a fragile ceasefire mediated by Egypt, the United Nations, and Qatar.

The airstrikes are similar to ones in 2022 in which Israel bombed places housing commanders of Islamic Jihad group, setting off a three-day blitz that saw the group loosing its two top commanders and other dozens of militants.

Israel says the raids in the West Bank are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. The Palestinians see the attacks as further entrenchment of Israel's 56-year, open-ended occupation of lands they seek for a future independent state.

So far, 105 Palestinians, about half of them are militants or alleged attackers, were killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and east Jerusalem since the start of 2023, according to an Associated Press tally.

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