Israel targets Islamic Jihad in Syria and Gaza

Rachel Elbaum and Lawahez Jabari and Paul Goldman

Israeli forces struck Islamic Jihad targets in Syria and the Gaza Strip late Sunday and Monday after the militant organization fired dozens of rockets into Israel and militants attempted to plant a device next to the fence with Gaza, the military said.

Around 40 rockets had been fired at Israel from Gaza in 24 hours, the military said on Monday. One rocket hit a children's playground in the town of Sderot, the military said, though there were no reports of injuries.

Two militants from Islamic Jihad were killed in Sunday's strikes on a compound outside Damascus, Syria, Islamic Jihad said in a tweet. The Israeli military described the site in a statement as a “hub of Islamic Jihad's activity in Syria” that included a weapons research and development hub where rocket fuel was developed, as well as a training center.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the rocket fire in a statement and said it was in response to the deaths of its militants in Syria.

"We confirm that we are ready to confront any aggression and let the occupation know that if it continues, we will respond with full force and competence,” the group said in the statement.

In Gaza, Israeli fighter jets targeted dozens of Islamic Jihad targets in the north and south on Sunday and Monday, including underground weapons storage and training compounds, the statement said.

Israel's defense minister said Monday that the military had "eliminated" six militants in the last day.

"We are preparing a plan to fundamentally change the situation in the Gaza Strip," said Naftali Bennett at a conference in Jerusalem on Monday. He didn't elaborate further, though military and political leaders have increasingly said that an all-out war with Gaza is only a matter of time.

"I really understand the situation of the people of the South. They deserve peace and security," he added.

This latest round of hostilities began on Sunday when Israel said its troops killed an Islamic Jihad member who was trying to plant explosives near Israel's border fence with the Gaza Strip.

Islamic Jihad then fired dozens of rockets into Israel, setting off air raid sirens and forcing Israelis in the areas surrounding Gaza to run for shelters. Some of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the military said.

Schools in the region were closed, affecting around 65,000 children, and there was also a ban on public gatherings of more than 300 people.

“The IDF views the rocket attack towards Israeli territory with great severity, is prepared and will continue operating as necessary against attempts to harm Israeli civilians,” the statement concluded.

Islamic Jihad is the second-largest militant group in Gaza and is supported by Iran. Hamas, which runs Gaza, has yet to make a statement on the strikes. Both groups vow to destroy Israel and are considered terrorist groups by the United States.

In November, hundreds of rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip after an Israeli airstrike targeted and killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza.

Image: A Palestinian surveys an Islamic Jihad site in Gaza that was targeted in an Israeli air strike.