Israeli fighter jets struck targets in Gaza in what they claimed to be a response to salvos of rockets launched by Palestinian militants on Tuesday. But after sunrise, the violence seemed to subside as both sides signaled they wanted to avoid a wider conflict, AP reported.
The exchange erupted when a prominent Palestinian detainee died in Israeli custody after an 87-day hunger strike. The death of Khader Adnan, 45, a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group credited with popularizing hunger strikes as an effective form of activism, reverberated across the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, where he is revered as a national hero.
Protests erupted at Israeli military checkpoints and a general strike shuttered stores. Palestinians and rights groups have blamed Israel for his death, accusing prison authorities of medical negligence.
Palestinian militants in Gaza fired 100 rockets into southern Israel late Tuesday. The Israeli military said its warplanes struck tunnels, arms production sites and military installations belonging to the ruling Hamas militant group in Gaza.
The Israeli strikes sent shrapnel slicing through the house of 58-year-old Hashil Mubarak in Gaza City, his son Hatem said. As their roof collapsed, shards of metal struck Mubarak’s chest, killing him, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Mubarak was rushed to the hospital and could not be resuscitated.
“We were sleeping at home safe and sound when we heard a giant explosion from a missile,” Hatem recalled as mourners filled his neighborhood mosque and took turns bending down to kiss his father’s forehead.
“He was martyred,” he said.
The U.N.’s envoy to the Mideast, Tor Wennesland, said he welcomed “the restoration of calm” after a violent 12 hours. “Had our efforts failed, we would risk being in the midst of another deadly escalation,” he said.
The spike in violence comes at a time of heightened tensions in the occupied West Bank under Israel’s most right-wing government in history. On Wednesday, Israeli security forces demolished the family houses of two Palestinians who carried out deadly attacks against Israelis last fall.
Israel’s decades-old policy of leveling family homes of attackers as a deterrent has long drawn criticism from human rights groups that call it collective punishment, forbidden by international law. Some also question its effectiveness in preventing future attacks, saying such demolitions only exacerbate tensions and fuel hatred in Palestinian communities.