Israel bombs Gaza after rocket fire, deadly Nablus raid

Israel attacks Gaza as tensions rise over an Israeli raid on the West Bank city of Nablus that killed 11 Palestinians.

Israel has bombed the Gaza Strip after Palestinian fighters launched several rockets from the besieged coastal enclave amid tensions over an Israeli raid that killed at least 11 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus.

The attacks early on Thursday sent plumes of black smoke rising over one of the targeted locations north of Gaza city.

Hours earlier, rockets fired from the Gaza Strip lit up the night sky and triggered sirens in the Israeli cities of Sderot and Ashkelon.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Palestinian witnesses said they saw at least eight rockets fired, while the Israeli military put the number of projectiles at six.

The Israeli military said its air defence system intercepted five of the rockets, while the sixth fell in an uninhabited area.

No Palestinian group has yet claimed responsibility for Thursday’s rocket fire.

The rocket launches came after the Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad group condemned the Israeli military’s raid in Nablus on Wednesday as a “major crime” that the “resistance must respond to”. Hamas, which governs the coastal enclave, had also issued a warning, with spokesman Abu Obeida saying “the resistance in Gaza is observing the enemy’s escalating crimes against our people in the occupied West Bank”. He added that their “patience is running out”.

The Nablus raid was one of the deadliest Israeli operations in the occupied West Bank since the second Intifada or the Palestinian uprising of 2000-2005. The death toll on Wednesday surpassed that of an Israeli attack last month in the city of Jenin, further north.

Among the dead in Nablus were three Palestinian men, ages 72, 66 and 61, and a 16-year-old boy, according to health officials.

At least 100 others were wounded. Some 82 of them were hit by live ammunition, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

The Israeli army blocked off all entrances to Nablus on Wednesday morning before surrounding a home with two wanted Palestinian fighters, Hossam Isleem and Mohammad Abdulghani, who were both killed. The Palestinian Lions’ Den armed group said in a statement that it engaged in clashes with Israeli forces during the raid, alongside the recently formed Balata Brigades.

The Israeli military said it entered Nablus to arrest three fighters suspected in previous shooting attacks against Israelis.

The four-hour operation left a broad swath of damage in a centuries-old marketplace in Nablus.

‘Indiscriminate fire’

Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim, reporting from Nablus, said witnesses described Israeli soldiers opening fire indiscriminately.

“We are hearing stories that Israeli forces were shooting at the neighbours, people in their houses, people going about their daily lives. Palestinians say Israel is acting this way because it is not being held accountable and has a free hand killing Palestinians,” Ibrahim said.

Time-stamped security footage that was widely shared online also appeared to show two young men, apparently unarmed, being shot as they ran in the street. Gunshots are heard, and both fall to the ground, with one’s hat flying off his head.

The influx of wounded overwhelmed the city’s Najah Hospital, according to Ahmad Aswad, the head nurse of the cardiology department.

The 36-year-old medic told The Associated Press news agency that he saw many patients shot in the chest, head and thighs.

“They shot to kill,” he said.

In a moment he said will haunt him, he and a colleague carefully extracted a bullet from a 61-year-old man’s heart. After the chaos subsided and they pronounced their patient dead, they looked at the man’s face. It was his colleague’s father, Abdelaziz Ashqar.

His colleague, Elias Ashqar, was overcome and went silent. “It didn’t feel like we were in reality,” Aswad said.

Israel stepped up its military raids, arrests and killings in Palestinian cities and villages in the occupied West Bank from June 2021, following a popular Palestinian uprising known as the “May outburst” that swept Israel and the Palestinian territories it has illegally occupied since 1967. Palestinian civilians confronting the Israeli military during raids and uninvolved bystanders have been killed, as well as fighters in targeted assassinations and during armed clashes.

Last year was the deadliest for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since 2006, according to the United Nations, with the Israeli army killing 171 Palestinians in a military campaign launched following a series of individual Palestinian attacks inside Israel.

The victims included 30 children.

So far this year, Israeli forces have killed some 62 Palestinians, including 13 children in the occupied territories.

Most of the Israeli army raids have occurred in Nablus and Jenin.

The cities are where “the concentration of armed resistance is growing”, said Mariam Barghouti, a Palestinian journalist at the Mondoweiss news site that focuses on Palestinian issues.

“Even though it [the resistance] is expanding to other areas of the West Bank, the Lions’ Den and the Jenin Brigade continue to be the epicentre of Palestinian armed resistance and new youth groups fighting, which is why they have become a target,” Barghouti told Al Jazeera.

Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war, territories the Palestinians seek for an independent state. Palestinian statehood talks have been stalled for almost a decade.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies