In Brief

Will Israel-Gaza violence develop into full-blown war?

Renewed eruption of fighting comes after period of relative calm

Israel and Gaza are exchanging fire again after an Israeli air strike killed a senior commander of the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

At least 160 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since the killing and the Israeli military has launched multiple strikes on targets in the Gaza Strip.

Baha Abu al-Ata died along with his wife when a missile hit their home. Four of their children and a neighbour were reportedly injured.

The Guardian says the killing has “kicked off a fresh round of violence, with Israel scrambling fighter jets to bomb Islamic Jihad fighters including a training compound and weapon storage sites”.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that Abu al-Ata was a “ticking bomb” intent on carrying out attacks.

He claimed that Abu al-Ata: “Initiated, planned and carried out many terrorist attacks. He fired hundreds of rockets at communities in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, whose suffering we have seen.”

However, at Abu al-Ata's funeral, senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad member Khaled al-Batsh said Israel had made “a declaration of war” with the killing, and pledged that the retaliation would “rock the Zionist entity”.

Hamas, the Palestinian political organisation and militant group in charge of Gaza, said Israel bore “full responsibility for the consequences of this escalation” and warned that the killing of Abu al-Ata would “not pass without punishment”.

The new violence comes after a period of relative calm. Although there have been outbreaks of violence, including clashes on the border last year, which left 168 Palestinians dead and thousands hurt, this is the most significant exchange of air fire for five years.

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In 2014, 2,205 Palestinians (including at least 1,483 civilians) and 71 Israelis (including 66 soldiers) were killed. There were also other major flare-ups, in 2012.

In the winter of 2008/2009, another war between Israel and Gaza left as many as 1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

Although the Jerusalem Post says there are “unconfirmed reports” that claimed Egypt had launched consultations with both sides in an attempt to reach a new ceasefire agreement, there are now fears of a similar conflict.

The BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Tom Bateman, says: “A serious escalation in hostilities is now likely, despite Israel's efforts to signal to Hamas that it has not returned to a wider strategy of so-called targeted killings.”

Israeli newspaper Haartez says “what comes next depends on Hamas” because Israel is “not fully in control of the escalating situation with Gaza's Islamic Jihad”.

The violence is also being seen in the context of political paralysis in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to see off his main rival for the premiership, the former military chief Benny Gantz, who has been calling for tougher action on Gaza.

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