At least one senior terrorist and a five-year-old girl were involved in a wave of Israeli airstrikes on the coastal enclave hours after Israeli jets targeted terrorist targets in Gaza as rockets rained down on southern Israel. At least 11 people died.
Fighting that began on Friday with Israel’s dramatic targeted killing of a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group continued through the night, bringing the sides closer to an all-out war.
But the Hamas rulers of the region remained on the edge of the conflict, limiting the intensity of the conflict to some extent.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several minor battles over the past 15 years, at a staggering cost to the region’s two million Palestinian residents.
The latest round of Israel-Gaza violence was sparked this week by the arrest of a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank as part of a months-long Israeli military operation in the region.
Citing a security threat, Israel then sealed off streets around the Gaza Strip and killed the militant leader in a targeted attack on Friday.
An explosion was heard in Gaza City, where smoke emanated from the seventh floor of a tall building.
Videos released by Israel’s military show three guard towers being blown up with suspected terrorists.
In a nationally televised speech on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country launched attacks based on “concrete threats”.
“This government has a zero-tolerance policy for any attacks from Gaza towards Israeli territory,” Lapid said.
“When there are people who are trying to harm their citizens, Israel will not sit idly by.”
“Israel is not interested in a wider conflict in Gaza, but will not shy away from one,” he said.
The violence became an early test for Mr Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of the election in November, when he was expected to retain office.
Mr Lapid, a centrist former TV host and author, has experience in diplomacy, having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has thin security credentials.
A conflict with Gaza could burn and boost his position as he faces off against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country during three of its four wars with Hamas. .
Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to engage in a new battle barely a year after the previous war, which caused widespread devastation.
There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal region mired in poverty, with unemployment at around 50%.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said a five-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman were among those killed in Gaza, without distinguishing between civilian and militant casualties.
The Israeli military said initial estimates were that around 15 fighters were killed.
Dozens were injured.
Islamic Jihad said northern Gaza commander Taisir al-Jabri was among the dead.
He had succeeded another terrorist killed in an airstrike in 2019.
An Israeli military spokesman said the attacks were in response to an “imminent threat” from two terrorist squads armed with anti-tank missiles.
The spokesman said al-Jabri was deliberately targeted and was responsible for “multiple attacks” on Israel.
Hundreds marched in a funeral procession for him and others killed, with many mourners waving Palestinian and Islamic jihad flags and calling for revenge.
Israeli media showed the skies over southern and central Israel illuminated with rockets and interceptors from Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
It was not immediately clear how many rockets were fired, and there was no immediate word on any casualties from the Israeli side.
Overnight Israel attacked rocket launchers, rocket manufacturing sites and Islamic Jihad targets.
The UN’s special envoy to the region, Tor Venesland, said: “The launch of the rockets must stop immediately, and I call on all sides to refrain from proceeding.”
After the initial Israeli attacks, a few hundred people gathered outside the morgue in Gaza City’s main Shifa hospital.
Some went to identify their loved ones and later cried.
“May God take revenge on the spies,” one shouted, referring to Palestinian informers who cooperate with Israel.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved an order to call in 25,000 reserve troops if needed, while the military declared a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and communities within 80 kilometers (50 mi) of the border. activities were banned.
Israel closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it launched a retaliatory attack on Monday following the arrest of Islamic Jihad leader Bassam al-Saadi, a group in the occupied West Bank. Was in military raid.
A teenage group member was killed in a gunfight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian extremists.
Hamas seized power in the coastal strip from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
Its most recent war with Israel took place in May 2021.
Tensions rose again earlier this year after a wave of attacks inside Israel, nearly daily military operations in the West Bank and a flashpoint at the Jerusalem holy site.
Israel withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005.
Islamic Jihad leader Ziyad al-Nakhlah told Iran’s al-Mayadeen TV network, “Fighters of the Palestinian resistance must stand together to confront this aggression”.
He said there would be “no red lines” and blamed the violence on Israel.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: “The enemy of Israel, which launched an escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, will have to pay the price and bear full responsibility for it.”
The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares its ideology.
Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out several deadly attacks over the years, including the firing of rockets into Israel.
It is not clear how much Hamas controls Islamic Jihad, and Israel blames Hamas for all attacks from Gaza.
Israel and Egypt have placed tight blockades on the region since the takeover of Hamas.
Israel says it needs to shut down Hamas to prevent it from increasing its military capability.
Critics say the policy equates to collective punishment.