GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli planes struck militant targets in Gaza early Saturday as rockets rained down on southern Israel, hours after a wave of Israeli airstrikes on the coastal enclave killed at least 10 people, including a high-ranking militant and a 5-year-old girl

Fighting that began on Friday with Israel’s dramatic targeted assassination of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander continued throughout the night, bringing the sides closer to all-out war.

But the Hamas rulers in the territory appeared to be staying out of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat contained, for now. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several minor battles in the last 15 years in a staggering cost to the 2 million Palestinian residents of the territory.

The latest round of violence between Israel and Gaza was sparked by the arrest this week of a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, as part of a month-long Israeli military operation in the territory. Citing a security threat, Israel sealed off roads around the Gaza Strip and on Friday killed the militant leader in a targeted attack.

An explosion was heard in Gaza City, where smoke rose from the seventh floor of a high-rise building. Video released by Israel’s military showed that the strikes blew up three watchtowers with suspected militants on them.

In a nationally televised speech on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country launched the attacks based on “concrete threats.”

“This government has a zero tolerance policy for any attempted attack, of any kind, from Gaza into Israeli territory,” Lapid said. “Israel will not sit idly by when there are those who try to harm its civilians.”

“Israel is not interested in a broader conflict in Gaza, but it will not be scared either.” he added she.

The violence poses an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of interim prime minister ahead of the November elections, when he hopes to retain his position.

Lapid, a centrist former TV host and author, has a background in diplomacy having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has few security credentials. A conflict with Gaza could polish his position and give him a boost when he takes on former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country through three of his four wars with Hamas.

Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new battle just a year after the last war caused widespread devastation. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman were among those killed in Gaza, without differentiating between civilian and militant casualties. The Israeli army said initial estimates were that around 15 fighters were killed. Dozens were injured.

Islamic Jihad said Taiseer al-Jabari, its commander for northern Gaza, was among those killed. He had succeeded another militant killed in an airstrike in 2019.

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles. The spokesman, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said al-Jabari was deliberately targeted and that he had been responsible for “multiple attacks” against Israel.

Hundreds of people marched in a funeral procession for him and others who were killed, with many mourners waving Palestinian and Islamic Jihad flags and calling for revenge.

Israeli media showed the skies over southern and central Israel lighting up 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 information on casualties on the Israeli side.

Overnight, Israel attacked rocket launchers, rocket construction sites and Islamic Jihad positions.

The UN special envoy to the region, Tor Wennesland, said: “The rocket fire must cease immediately, and I call on all parties to prevent further escalation.”

Following the initial Israeli attacks, a few hundred people gathered outside the morgue of the main Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Some went in to identify their loved ones and then came out crying.

“May God take revenge on the spies,” one shouted, referring to Palestinian informants cooperating with Israel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve soldiers if needed, while the army announced a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and limits on activities in communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the border.

Israel closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it prepared for a revenge attack after the arrest Monday of Bassam al-Saadi, an Islamic Jihad leader, in a military incursion into the West Bank. busy. A teenage member of the group was killed in a shootout between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Hamas seized power in the coastal strip from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Its most recent war with Israel was in May 2021. Tensions spiked again earlier this year. following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a Jerusalem holy site. Israel withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005.

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah, speaking to Al-Mayadeen television from Iran, said “Palestinian resistance fighters have to unite to confront this aggression.” He said there would be “no red lines” and blamed the violence on Israel.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that “the Israeli enemy, who started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it.”

The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares his ideology. Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out dozens of deadly attacks over the years, including firing rockets at Israel. It is unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a strict blockade on the territory since Hamas took power. Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent Hamas from developing its military capabilities. Critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment.


Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.


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