The Gaza Strip is recovering from a night of air and naval strikes by Israeli forces, with residents bracing for an intensified operation
GAZA CITY - Palestinians in the Gaza Strip prepared for continued military strikes following the Israeli army’s launch of a new military offensive called “Operation Protective Edge” against the enclave early Tuesday morning.
Following an announcement at around 1am local time (22:00 GMT), Israeli forces launched 65 airstrikes and three naval shellings against 50 targets in the Gaza Strip overnight, destroying five civilian homes and injuring 16 Palestinians, including seven children.
The Israeli security cabinet had agreed to increased air strikes on the Gaza Strip in response to rocket strikes from the territory, while refraining from a ground invasion, at 6pm Monday evening.
On Sunday evening and Monday morning, three Israeli strikes had killed nine Palestinians in al-Bureij refugee camp and Rafah. Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades said seven of the men killed in Rafah - Ibrahim 'Abdeen by shelling and Ibrahim al-Bal'aawy, Abdul-Rahman az-Zamely, Mustafa Abu Morr, his twin brother Khaled Abu Morr, Yousef Sharaf Ghannam, and Jom'a Abu Shallouf in a later air strike on a tunnel - had been its fighters.
"The enemy will pay a heavy price," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zohri said in response to the attacks.
Army sources told Israeli media that the fighters who were in the tunnel were working with explosives.
Mazen al-Jadya and Marwan Salim, killed by an earlier air strike on al-Bureij, had been fighters for the Abd al-Qadir al-Husseini Brigades.
Palestinian armed groups responded by firing dozens of rockets into Israel. An early-morning statement by the al-Qassam Brigades warned the group would “respond by broadening the range of our targets” if Israel kept targeting houses for airstrikes, saying, "Bombing civilian homes is a red line."
The exchange followed nearly a month of escalating tension that began with Israeli raids, detentions and shootings in the West Bank and a tightening of its closure on the Gaza Strip after the disappearance of three young settlers, later found dead, near Hebron on 12 June.
“It's a different kind of escalation,” Noor Harazeen, a Gaza journalist, told Middle East Eye Monday evening before Israel announced the operation.
“In previous escalations, we would see a few air strikes here and there, and resistance fighters firing a few rockets,” she said. “It wouldn't last more than a few days, and the Israelis would mostly attack empty lands, with few martyrs or injuries.”
On Tuesday, Gaza shops were unusually busy for a morning in Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of daytime fasting, as many stocked up on supplies.
“This operation will kill the life of Gazans,” Maher Azzam, a law student from Gaza City’s al-Nasser neighborhood, told Middle East Eye Tuesday morning.
“There will not be any means of life here,” he said. “No one will be able to leave their houses because Israel will target everything that moves in Gaza.”
Previous Israeli military offensives in 2008-2009 and 2012 trapped hundreds of thousands of Gaza Strip residents in their homes for days.
But many of the largest mass casualties, like 49 Palestinians in the Samouni family house in 2009 and 12 in the Dalou home in 2012, happened in private residences.
With Israel resuming its targeting of civilian houses, which led to these previous group killings, Palestinian homes may offer little protection against air strikes.
“As usual, they will kill a lot of civilians and damage a lot of houses in Gaza, but on a much larger and wider scale,” Azzam said.
A 'war on livelihoods'
Since closing its Kerem Shalom crossing, the Gaza Strip’s only avenue for importing goods, to everything but fuel on June 15, Israel has increased its pressure on the enclave.
Families of 377 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel have been denied visits for four consecutive weeks.
On Sunday, Israel reduced the area it allows Gaza Strip fishermen from six nautical miles offshore, the limit reached in negotiations to end its 2012 conflict with Palestinian armed groups, to three.
A statement by the Palestinian ministry of agriculture called the change, accompanied by threats of Israeli naval gunfire, “a war against thousands of the Palestinian fishermen and their livelihoods”.
Nizar Ayyash, a spokesman for the Gaza fishermen’s union, told the Ma’an News Agency fishermen would continue sailing to the old limit, saying they would “find out the certainty of the news if they will be fired at.”
The Israeli moves against the Gaza Strip also come alongside an ongoing offensive in the West Bank. Since 12 June, the Israeli military has killed at least five Palestinians - Mustafa Hosini Aslan, Mahmoud Jihad Muhammad Dudeen, Ahmed Said Soud Khaled, Muhammad Ismail Atallah Tarifi, and Yousef Abu Zagha - and imprisoned over 830.
During the same period, 17 Palestinians have been killed and over 50 injured in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian ministry of health said Tuesday.
“This time, it's not only an escalation in Gaza,” Harazeen said. “It comes with the raids in the West Bank and 1948-occupied Palestine. You could call it an offensive against all of Palestine. What’s happening in the West Bank is affecting the people in Gaza, and what happens in Gaza affects the West Bank.”
Hamas has indicated its conditions for returning to a ceasefire include the terms of its previous agreements with Israel, including the 2012 truce and the release of Palestinians freed in the 2011 prisoner exchange Israel has recaptured.
“This escalation will go further,” Harazeen said. “I don't think people in either the Gaza Strip or the West Bank will remain calm and answer these Israeli attacks with silence.”
Having already faced two military offensives in the past six years, many in Gaza seem resigned to the renewed fighting and increased hardships coming days could bring.
“It started affecting daily life in Gaza,” Wafaa Abu Hajajj, a Gaza journalist, said Monday evening. “People began fearing and thinking of a new war. But the people of Gaza are a strong people. They can cope with any situation, because they've already been through a lot.”
Early Tuesday morning, as bombs began to fall in earnest, Azzam said, “The people who were strong enough to face the previous wars that happened in Gaza will be able to face this operation.”