Islamic Jihad funerals and battle songs: Gaza after the ceasefire | Gaza

In Shujaiya, a neighborhood in Gaza City already scarred by several rounds of wars, men handed out coffee and dates from the shade of a colorful mourning tent as Palestinian Islamic Jihad battle songs rang out. a sound system.

Men carrying AK-47s, their faces protected by black balaclavas, lined the entrance to the tent, and the militant group’s black and yellow flag flew above.

The neighborhood had gathered to mourn five-year-old Alaa Qaddoum, one of the first victims of Operation Breaking Dawn – a surprise campaign of Israeli airstrikes targeting Islamic Jihad, the Gaza Strip’s second-largest militant organization. after Hamas.

The Israeli military said Alaa’s father, Abdullah, is a senior Islamic Jihad commander, but did not say whether he was the target of Friday’s attack that killed her. He was seriously injured in the attack, along with Alaa’s seven-year-old brother. The Israeli army said it was aware of the five-year-old’s death and that civilian casualties would be investigated.

A 60-year-old civilian sitting on the steps of a mosque and an Islamic Jihad fighter on a motorbike were also killed on Friday afternoon in the first salvo of Israel’s three-day offensive.

The motorcyclist was named by Islamic Jihad as Yusuf Qaddoum, a distant relative of Alaa.

School books of the Qaddoum family. Photography: Bethan McKernan

“They were targeting the motorbike, but it was obvious there were children and people at the mosque,” Alaa’s grandfather Riad said, pointing to the shrapnel marks and streaks of shrapnel. dried blood where the girl died. “The rest of the street was empty. They could have waited. »

Gaza’s health ministry says 44 people, including 15 children and several Islamic Jihad operatives, were killed and 350 civilians injured when missiles hit the blockaded Palestinian territory ahead of a peace-brokered ceasefire. enters into force on Sunday evening. Sixty people in southern Israel were treated for minor injuries as hundreds of retaliatory rockets were fired across the border from Gaza into the south of the country.

Unlike other Israeli airstrikes in built-up areas in the Strip, which since 2014 have often been accompanied by phone calls ordering residents to evacuate first, Breaking Dawn began without warning.

Alaa’s mother, Rasha, said she and her husband were taking their four children to the park when the operation began. The family walked around the corner to borrow a thermos flask from a relative, and Rasha was inside the house when a missile turned the street to blood and dust.

“She loved school. She was so keen to come home after the summer that she already had me call the teacher and sign me up for next year,” said the 27-year-old, surrounded by mourners at the family home. as she clutched Alaa’s pink backpack and flipped through her school. books.

“I was standing by the window when it happened. I saw our relatives holding my daughter and she was bleeding. She doesn’t know anything about rockets. What was her crime?

Woman outside bomb damaged house
A Palestinian woman hangs laundry in her home damaged during the fighting between Israel and Gaza. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters

Founded in 1981 with the aim of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state and destroying Israel, Islamic Jihad is directly funded by Iran and designated as a terrorist organization by most of the international community. Unlike Hamas, which took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, it is not encumbered with day-to-day governance of the coastal enclave and, therefore, is often the driving force behind clashes with Israel. While the two movements are allied, Islamic Jihad often acts independently and sometimes undermines the authority of Hamas.

The weekend violence – the worst since an 11-day war in May 2021 that killed 256 people in Gaza and 14 people in Israel – was sparked by the arrest of Bassem al-Saadi, the commander-in-chief of the Islamic Jihad in the occupied West Bank. While Islamic Jihad did not respond by firing rockets into Israel, the Israeli defense establishment insisted that Breaking Dawn prevented an imminent major retaliatory attack.

The campaign is considered by the majority of the Israeli public to be a resounding success: the IDF succeeded in killing two senior Islamic Jihad commanders and claims to have destroyed rocket launch sites and training camps, without causing a single Israeli casualty. The gamble that Hamas would not be dragged into the fray, unleashing all-out war, appears to have paid off, as the group continues to rebuild its arsenal and network of tunnels after the last round of conflict.

The operation boosted the security credentials of Israel’s caretaker prime minister, centrist Yair Lapid, before the politically polarized country held its fifth election in less than four years in November. Gaza’s 2.2 million people are paying a heavy price, however.

Four wars and several other battles with Israel since the Hamas takeover have devastated the infrastructure and economy of the 17 square miles, while 15 years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade has left the population trapped to access the drinking water, electricity and adequate medical care .

The young boy holds the flag
A Palestinian boy holds an Islamic Jihad flag next to a photo of the group’s leader, Khaled Mansour, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike on Saturday. Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty

On Monday, after the ceasefire took effect, most residents of the strip were trying to return to some semblance of normality. Electricity and water were still not working in many areas, and fuel deliveries from Israel have yet to reach gas stations.

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In Sheikh Ijlin, a neighborhood in southern Gaza City on the shores of the Mediterranean, residents of two city blocks picked up the rubble of their homes, which were destroyed on Saturday; two little barefoot girls played with plastic flowers and blankets pulled from the debris while the adults surveyed the damage.

Safa Shammalakh, a 31-year-old disabled shopkeeper, struggled to get to safety after hearing cries on Saturday morning that the Israelis had called the owner of the building next door, warning him that he would be hit.

“My house is gone, my groceries are gone,” she said. “We hope the ceasefire will hold, but there are never any guarantees. It always happens again. »

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