Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired a barrage of rockets following the death of a high-profile Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody after a nearly three-month hunger strike.
The death of 45-year-old Khader Adnan, a prominent leader of the militant Islamic Jihad group, has outraged Palestinians and raised fears of a retaliation.
Earlier on Tuesday, militants in Gaza fired a volley of rockets towards empty fields in Israel.
The Israeli military said that militants in Gaza launched 22 rockets toward Israeli territory later on Tuesday. Four rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system.
Palestinian armed groups have long vowed to strike Israel if a hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner such as Adnan — celebrated as a national hero for his resistance to Israel — died in Israeli custody.
The tactic has become a last recourse for resistance against what Palestinians see as unjust incarceration. The prisoners often become dangerously ill by refusing food but deaths are rare.
Dawood Shahab, an Islamic Jihad spokesman, called Adnan’s death “a full-fledged crime, for which the Israeli occupation bears full and direct responsibility”.
Israel has often conceded to demands to release prisoners or shorten their sentences after they staged life-threatening hunger strikes, but Adnan’s death comes as Israel is led by its most right-wing government ever.
Prisons are overseen by Cabinet minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, an ultra-nationalist politician who previously tightened restrictions on Palestinian inmates, including shortening their shower time and closing prison bakeries.
Mr Ben-Gvir said on Tuesday that prison officials must exhibit “zero-tolerance toward hunger strikes and unrest in security prisons” and ordered that prisoners be confined to their cells.
Adnan began his strike shortly after being arrested on February 5.
He had gone on hunger strikes several times after previous arrests. That included a 55-day strike in 2015 to protest against his arrest under so-called administrative detention, in which suspects are held indefinitely without charge or trial.
In most cases, Israel has eventually released them after their health significantly deteriorated. None have died in custody but many have suffered irreparable neurological damage.
Israel’s prison service said Adnan had been charged this time with “involvement in terrorist activities” but had refused medical treatment while legal proceedings moved forward.
It said he was found unconscious in his cell early on Tuesday and transferred to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Palestinian groups called for a general strike in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and in cities across the West Bank on Tuesday, with schools and businesses closing for what organisers called a day of “general mourning”.
Israel fought an 11-day war with Palestinian militants in Gaza, including Islamic Jihad, in May 2021.
Israel is currently holding more than 1,000 Palestinian detainees without charge or trial, the highest number since 2003, according to the Israeli human rights group HaMoked.
That figure has grown in the past year as Israel has carried out almost nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank in the wake of a string of deadly Palestinian attacks in Israel in early 2022.
Israel says the controversial tactic helps authorities thwart attacks and hold dangerous militants without divulging incriminating material for security reasons.
Palestinians and rights groups say the system is widely abused and denies due process, with the secret nature of the evidence making it impossible for administrative detainees or their lawyers to mount a defence.