GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip >> The Palestinian death toll from last weekend’s fighting between Israel and Gaza militants rose to 48 Thursday after an 11-year-old girl and a man died from wounds they suffered during the worst cross-border violence in over a year.
Meanwhile, two wounded Gaza children, ages 8 and 14, were fighting for their lives in a Jerusalem hospital. In all, more than 300 Palestinians were wounded over the weekend when Israel struck Islamic Jihad targets across Gaza and the militant group fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.
The death of 11-year-old Layan al-Shaer at Mukassed Hospital in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem brought to 17 the number of children killed in the fighting. Hani al-Shaer, a relative, said she was wounded in a drone attack during a surprise opening salvo launched by Israel, hours before any rockets were fired.
Israel said it launched the initial wave of airstrikes, which killed an Islamic Jihad commander, in response to an imminent threat from the militant group, days after Israeli troops arrested one of its leaders in the occupied West Bank.
Two other Gaza children, 14-year-old Nayef al-Awdat and 8-year-old Mohammed Abu Ktaifa were being treated in the intensive care unit at Mukassed.
Nayef, who is blind, was wounded in an Israeli airstrike, while Mohammed was hurt in an explosion that went off near a wedding party and killed an elderly woman, with the circumstances still unclear.
Israel has said as many as 16 people might have been killed by rockets misfired by Palestinian militants. Israeli strikes appear to have killed more than 30 Palestinians, including civilians and several militants, among them two senior Islamic Jihad commanders. It wasn’t immediately clear how the man whose death was announced Thursday was wounded. The Israeli military says it makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties.
A cease-fire took hold Sunday night, bringing an end to the fighting that started Friday. No Israelis were killed or seriously wounded.
Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the last 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents. Hamas sat out the latest fighting, possibly because of understandings with Israel that have eased a 15-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza when Hamas took power.
In other developments, a Palestinian prisoner on a protracted hunger strike was moved Thursday from an Israeli jail to a hospital because of his worsening condition, the prisoner’s wife said. An Israeli prison service official confirmed the development, speaking on condition of anonymity under regulations.
Khalil Awawdeh has refused food for just over 160 days, according to his family, in a bid to draw attention to his detention by Israel without trial or charge. His case was thrust into the spotlight during the latest Gaza fighting.
Gaza militants have demanded his release as part of the cease-fire that ended the fighting.
Awawdeh, a 40-year-old father of four, was arrested by Israel in December, accused of being a member of a militant group, a charge his lawyer said he denies. Recently, he has been using a wheelchair and was showing memory loss and speech difficulties, according to his lawyer, Ahlam Haddad.
Dalal Awawdeh, Khalil’s wife, said his condition had deteriorated, prompting Israeli authorities to move him to a hospital.
Dr. Lina Qasem from the Physicians for Human Rights Israel organization said Thursday after meeting Awawdeh that his condition was “extremely bad” and that he only drinks water and is refusing additional vitamins, salts and sugar.
“He suffers from a very extreme weakness,” she said. Awawdeh said he will continue his hunger strike until his release from detention, she said, but he “requests that the medical team do what is necessary to save his life because he does not wish to die.”
Prospects for Awawdeh’s release under the cease-fire are uncertain. But his case highlights the plight of hundreds of Palestinians who are being held by Israel under a system that critics say denies them the right to due process, known as administrative detention. The worsening conditions of hunger striking prisoners has in the past whipped up tensions with the Palestinians, and in some cases prompted Israel to accede to hunger strikers’ demands.
Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinians, including militants who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones. Around 670 Palestinians are now being held in administrative detention, a number that jumped in March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis.
Israel says administrative detention is needed to prevent attacks or to keep dangerous suspects locked up without sharing evidence that could endanger valuable intelligence sources. Israel says it provides due process and largely imprisons those who threaten its security, though a small number are held for petty crimes.
Palestinians and human rights groups say the system is designed to quash opposition and maintain permanent control over millions of Palestinians while denying them basic rights.