WASHINGTON — Militant groups in Gaza are firing rockets at Israel — and the Israeli army is responding with rockets of its own — after a Palestinian on a hunger strike died in an Israeli prison.
Khader Adnan, who died Tuesday after three months of hunger-striking, is the first Palestinian to die by this form of protest. He and others have been refusing food to protest Israel’s policy of detaining accused terrorists for extended periods of time, sometimes years, without charges.
Adnan was also a leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terror group based in the Gaza Strip. The group launched dozens of rockets into Israel after Adnan’s death, seriously injuring at least one civilian in Israel’s south, the Israeli army said.
Israel returned fire, sending rockets into Gaza Tuesday night. But right-wing government officials were pressing Israel to respond more aggressively, with some arguing that the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, should free Israel from acting with restraint.
Adnan’s death and the subsequent rocket fire exacerbate tensions that have been flaring for a year between Israelis and Palestinians, threatening to ignite them at a time when Israel is deeply divided internally over the government’s effort to weaken the judiciary.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assembled his top security chiefs to discuss the events of the day. “Anyone who attempts to harm the citizens of Israel will be sorry,” Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, said in a statement.
Adnan’s death got attention in Washington, D.C., Tuesday as a Biden administration spokesman weighed in on the case. Vedant Patel, the State Department spokesman, was responding to a question from Said Arikat, a Palestinian reporter who is the Washington correspondent for Jerusalem’s Al Quds newspaper.
“Our view is that we have a deep respect for human rights and believe that all individuals, including prisoners, should be treated humanely,” Patel said. “What I will also note, Said, is that Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a designated foreign terrorist organization and as we have seen with today’s rocket attacks, this group continues to advance violence.”
Arikat asked again: Do Palestinian prisoners deserve a trial? “That is for the Israeli government to determine,” Patel said.
Human rights groups say Israel is holding more than a thousand prisoners in what Israeli military authorities call “administrative detention.” Israel defends the practice, which it inherited from the British Mandate, saying it keeps dangerous actors off the streets while protecting intelligence sources that would risk exposure at trial.