The death of a prominent Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody following an 87-day hunger strike has sparked renewed violence in Gaza, with Palestinian armed groups firing rockets from the besieged strip and Israel responding with new attacks.
Khader Adnan, who was awaiting trial, was found unconscious in his cell and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead after attempts to resuscitate him, Israel’s prison service said Tuesday.
Hundreds of people took to the streets in blockaded Gaza and the occupied West Bank to support Adnan and mourn his death, which Palestinian leaders described as an assassination.
The Israeli army said at least 26 rockets were fired from the enclave. Two landed in the southern city of Sderot, injuring three people, including a 25-year-old foreign national who suffered serious shrapnel injuries, according to the Israeli ambulance service.
An umbrella group of armed Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have claimed responsibility for rocket attacks against Israel.
The Israeli army said it attacked Gaza late on Tuesday when loud explosions were reported by witnesses. Hamas media said Israeli planes hit two sites in the city of Gaza.
Earlier in the day, Tel Aviv fired artillery shells at several areas in the eastern parts of Gaza City and Khan Younis specifically targeted the Malaka area, Al Jazeera’s correspondent Heba Akkila said.
No casualties or damage have yet been reported.
In the West Bank city of Hebron, shops observed a general strike. Some protesters burned tires and threw stones at Israeli soldiers who fired tear gas and rubber bullets at them. There were no reports of injuries.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with security officials to assess the situation. An Israeli military official said Israel would respond at a time and place of its choosing.
Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said prison officials decided to close cells to “prevent riots”.
In a tweet, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the security establishment will act “decisively and violently” against those who harm the country.
Israeli observers said they believed an attack on Gaza was imminent. “It is clear that there will be an Israeli response. Expect intense airstrikes in the coming hours,” Jackie Khouri, an expert on Israeli affairs, told Al Jazeera from Haifa.
“I believe the rules of the game will remain the same at this stage: just like last month, the intense airstrikes on Gaza did not target residential areas.”
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from West Jerusalem, said it would be surprising if Israel did not respond. Usually “they do that in the nighttime hours — that would mean later tonight or very early tomorrow morning,” he said.
Mustafa Barghouti, general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI), called Khader Adnan’s death an “ugly murder” that aims to “break the spirit of resistance of Palestinian prisoners.”
Administrative detention is a common measure in which Palestinians are forcibly arrested without even knowing what they are accused of. Hunger strikes are often the last resort.
It is “a complete mockery of international human rights law,” Barghouti said.
The number of Palestinian administrative prisoners has risen to more than 1,000 in the past year, the highest number in two decades.
The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has described Khader Adnan’s hunger strike as “a form of nonviolent protest against his arrest and the injustice of the occupation”.
Lina Qasem-Hassan of Physicians for Human Rights in Israel said she saw Adnan on April 23, when he had lost 40 kg and was struggling to breathe but was conscious.
“His death could have been prevented,” said Qasem Hassan. Several Israeli hospitals had refused to admit Adnan after he made brief visits to their emergency room.
Since 2011, Adnan had staged at least three hunger strikes in protest against detentions without charge by Israel. The tactic has been used by other Palestinian prisoners, sometimes en masse, but none have died since 1992.
Adnan’s lawyer Jamil al-Khatib and a doctor from a human rights organization who recently met him accused the Israeli authorities of withholding medical care.
“We demanded that he be transferred to a civilian hospital where he could be closely monitored. Unfortunately, such a demand was met by intransigence and rejection,” al-Khatib told Reuters.
Adnan, 45, was a baker and father of nine children from Jenin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Islamic Jihad sources said he was one of the political leaders.
The faction has a limited presence in the West Bank, but is the second most powerful armed group in Hamas-ruled Gaza, where Israeli forces bombed last August.