Israel closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it prepares for a retaliatory attack after the arrest of the leader of Islamic Jihad in the occupied West Bank on Monday. A member of the group was killed in an armed clash between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes in the 15 years since the hardline movement seized power in the coastal enclave from rival Palestinian forces. The last war was in May 2021, and tensions escalated again earlier this year after 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 on Friday, saying that authorities were preparing for “actions that would remove the threat from this area,” without elaborating.
He said, “We will act with internal flexibility and external force in order to restore routine life in southern Israel. We do not seek conflict, yet we will not hesitate to defend our citizens, if necessary.”
Ahmed Mudallal, an official in the Islamic Jihad in Gaza, said that the movement had asked Israel through Egyptian mediators, including the release of the detained activist and another prisoner, a halt to the West Bank raids and the lifting of the siege on Gaza. He said they have not yet received a response.
Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but shares its ideology to a large extent. 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.