PIJ Figure Dies in Israeli Prison, Sparking Israel-Gaza Escalation

PIJ Figure Dies in Israeli Prison, Sparking Israel-Gaza Escalation

Israel and the Palestinian Territories 

PIJ Figure Dies in Israeli Prison, Sparking Israel-Gaza Escalation

More than 100 Palestinian rockets and mortars were fired into Israel and Israeli warplanes struck sites said to be linked to Hamas, which governs Gaza. The escalation came after Khader Adnan, a senior figure in Palestinian Islamic Jihad, died in Israeli prisons after conducting an 87-day hunger strike. Israeli authorities said he had refused medical care during his 87-day hunger strike, which he began after being detained in the occupied West Bank on terrorism charges.

An umbrella group of militant groups in Gaza, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas, said the rocket fire was "an initial response to this heinous crime.” Sirens sounded repeatedly in southern Israeli towns as militants launched several rounds of rockets following the announcement of Adnan’s death. 

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Lt Col Richard Hecht said 104 rockets were fired in total. Eleven fell into the sea, 14 landed inside Gaza, 24 were intercepted by Israel's air defense system, and 48 fell in open areas, he added. At least one rocket hit a building site in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on Tuesday afternoon. A 25-year-old Chinese worker was moderately injured by shrapnel and two other foreign workers were lightly injured. 

There were loud explosions and flashes that lit up the night sky as Israeli warplanes hit 16 targets in Gaza in response, including what the IDF said were weapon manufacturing sites, military compounds and "underground terrorist tunnels.” “We attacked everything we wanted,” Col Hecht said. 

A Palestinian security source told the BBC that 12 Hamas military sites were hit across Gaza, causing major damage to them as well as nearby houses. The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said on Wednesday morning that a 58-year-old man called Hashel Mubarak was killed north of Gaza City, and that five other people were injured. 

Egypt, Qatar, and the UN were involved in efforts to reach a truce, which a senior Islamic Jihad official said began at 06:00 (03:00 GMT) on Wednesday. "The Palestinian factions have responded positively to the efforts of Egypt and many parties to [the] cease fire," the official told the BBC. "If the occupation [Israel] carries out any aggression, there will be a strong response from the resistance.”  

Tensions had flared with the death of the 45-year-old, who had been in and out of detention by Israel over the past two decades. He had been on hunger strike four times before in protest, helping to make his name well known to Palestinians. While Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails often take a stand by refusing food, this is believed to have been the first such death in three decades. Adnan began a fifth hunger strike immediately after being detained by Israeli forces at his home in Arraba, near the city of Jenin in the north of the occupied West Bank, on 5 February. Israeli authorities accused him of supporting terrorism, affiliation with a terrorist group and incitement, and he was due to go on trial this month.


Iraq’s President Visits Iran 

Iraq’s President Abdul Latif Rashid visited Iran last Saturday. While in Tehran, he met with Iran’s president and supreme leader, among other officials. In a readout from his meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khamenei said, “Americans are not friends of Iraq. Americans are not friends with anyone and are not even loyal to their European friends.” He pointedly noted that “even the presence of one American in Iraq is too much.” The last time Khamenei met with an Iraqi president was in 2018 when Barham Salih held the post.  


Saudi Arabia Seeks Contact with Hezbollah 

An unnamed European government reportedly communicated Saudi Arabia’s interest in starting negotiations with Iran-backed Hezbollah via a third party, the Al-Akhbar newspaper affiliated with the group reported this week. 

Given the publication’s role as a mouthpiece for Hezbollah, reports like this must normally be treated with a degree of skepticism. However, lending credence to the possibility that Riyadh is indeed seeking contact with Hezbollah is the fact that the Kingdom, in recent months, has been mending ties with Iran and Syria, and has started peace talks with the Houthis in Yemen.  

This was not the first report of such a nature that Al-Akhbar has carried. In late March, it reported that then-Iraqi Prime Minister Musa al-Kadhimi had met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, and the latter had reacted favorably to the possibility of reestablishing channels of communication with Hezbollah so long as these eventually led to Saudi-Iranian rapprochement.


Israel Conducts Airstrike in Syria 

Israel reportedly conducted airstrikes on northern Syria’s Aleppo Province on Tuesday. Syria's state news agency SANA, citing a military official, said two civilians and five other Syrian soldiers were wounded, and that Israel had launched airstrikes on other unnamed targets around Aleppo. Britain-based opposition war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike targeted a munitions depot by the airport. It also reported Israeli strikes at a military airport in the Aleppo countryside, though Syrian state media did not report on the matter.  

Iranian President Raisi Visits Syria 

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi paid a visit this week to Syria, the first such visit by an Iranian president in thirteen years. The move comes as Arab states have increased efforts to return Syria to the “Arab fold,” a move that could impact Iran’s control over Damascus. 

Iran has been a long-term supporter of Bashar al-Assad, sending Iranian militia to help defeat Assad’s opponents, and as the normalization of relations between Syria and Gulf states nears, Iran wants to ensure it reaps the economic benefits of its support. Raisi is also making the visit now to try to build a stronger anti-Israeli alliance in the region.

Raisi’s deputy chief of staff for political affairs, Mohammad Jamshidi, told the state-run news agency IRNA prior to departure that the visit was a sign of “the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic victory in the region.” 

Raisi’s visit included official meetings with Assad. The two discussed ways to develop bilateral relations and economic ties, with a focus on reconstruction. The Iranian president also met with Palestinian groups in Damascus this week as part of his multiday trip to Syria. He met with “Palestinian resistance commanders” at the presidential palace, Iranian pro-government media reported. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Iranian Ambassador to Syria Hossein Akbari were present at the meeting, according to reports.  

As Raisi visited, the Commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force Esmail Ghaani delivered remarks trumpeting the progress of the Axis of Resistance. He said Tehran has humiliated Israel by organizing “Islamic resistance.” He added, “at this point, Israel has reached a level of humiliation that it has surrounded itself with barbed wire and radars to prevent infiltration.” He claimed that because of the Islamic Republic’s efforts to inject a “spirit of resistance,” there are some days up to 30 attacks that take place against Israel “that their media try to hide.”  

Syria’s Readmission to the Arab League is Imminent says Jordanian Foreign Minister 

Syria should soon be able to return to the Arab League but many challenges lie ahead in resolving the country's more than decade-old conflict, Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Friday. The organization suspended Syria's membership in 2011 over President Bashar al-Assad's violent crackdown on an uprising that has evolved into a civil war. Safadi said Syria had enough votes among the group's 22 members to regain its seat.  

“The return to the league will happen. Symbolically it will be important but ... that is only a very humble beginning of what will be a very long and difficult and challenging process, given the complexity of the crisis after 12 years of conflict," he told CNN.