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Israel’s assassination of Islamic Jihadi leader escalates violence against Palestinian resistance

By Claire Dujardin, MSc International Politics

Beginning on 12 November, rockets were fired between Israel and the Gaza strip. A ceasefire was declared on 14 November but has not been followed. 34 Palestinians have been killed, including children. 

This attack took place after the commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Baha Abu al-Ata, and his wife were assassinated in their home while they were sleeping. Al-Ata’s murder was a ‘direct act to remove an imminent threat,’ an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) statement declared. Israel is also implicated in an assassination attempt on an Islamic jihadi political leader in Damascus, Akram al-Ajouri. Israel has not confirmed their involvement in this assassination attempt. 

In recent years, Israel has reduced its use of targeted elimination techniques because it generally leads to increased Palestinian resistance against occupying IDF forces. The PIJ warned that their ‘inevitable retaliation will rock the Zionist entity’. They fired more than 350 rockets on Israel from Tuesday to Wednesday, but most of them were taken out by Israel’s air defence equipment and caused minimal damage to Israel. 

Israel subsequently closed checkpoints that are already heavily guarded into Gaza and reduced the allocated fishing area for Palestinians to six nautical miles. The new Israeli defence minister Naftali Bennett declared that ‘anyone who plans to attack us in the day will never be sure to make it through the night’. Israeli airstrikes killed a total of 34 Palestinians before a ceasefire was agreed upon from 5:30am local time on 14 November. 

In spite of the ceasefire, rockets were fired from Gaza into the town of Beersheba. Israel carried out airstrikes in response, targeting Hamas who had not claimed responsibility for any of the rocket launches to that point. The IDF clarified in a statement that it ‘holds the Hamas terror organization responsible for events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it.’ Israel put an end to a long-term ceasefire which was agreed upon in May 2019 by both Hamas and the IDF. The PIJ was not a part of this truce.

The conflict arose at a time of political paralysis in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz was trying to create a coalition government to succeed him. Only days after the Israeli attack on 18 November, the Israel-Palestine conflict jumped back to the international scene with the declaration made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concerning the ‘non-illegality’ of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which is a direct violation of UN Resolution ‘2334’ and International Law. 

The new Israeli defence minister Naftali Bennett declared that ‘anyone who plans to attack us in the day will never be sure to make it through the night’.

SOAS Palestine Society released a solidarity statement on 14 November: ‘We join the calls from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for the UK Government to condemn Israel’s latest escalation, including its policy of targeted assassinations, and to demand that Israel ends its bombing campaign.’ They held a ‘Voices from Gaza’ event and invited students and workers to follow the boycott of ‘companies that profit from the violations of Palestinian human rights’.

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