GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli airstrikes flattened homes in Gaza on Saturday and rocket barrages into southern Israel persisted, raising fears of an escalation in a conflict that has killed at least 15 people in the coastal strip.
The fighting began with Israel’s killing of a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in a wave of strikes Friday that Israel said were meant to prevent an imminent attack. Two women and a 5-year-old girl were among the victims of these strikes.
Hamas, the militant organization that controls Gaza’s larger territory, has so far remained neutral and only slightly escalated the conflict. Israel and Hamas fought a war barely a year ago, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles over the last 15 years that wreaked a staggering cost to the impoverished territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.
Hamas’ ability to continue fighting in the war against Israel will depend in part on Israel’s continued rocket fire and how severe punishments it inflicts there.
Israeli warplanes launched strikes on Saturday afternoon against four Gaza City residences. These buildings were all believed to be linked with Islamic Jihad militants. It was the largest yet, however there were no casualties. Each case was preceded by warnings from the Israeli military.
A second strike occurred Saturday, resulting in the death of a 75 year-old woman as well as six injuries to other victims.
Two bombs were dropped by fighter jets after warnings. Two-story building was destroyed by the blast, which left a huge rubble-filled pit and severely damaged homes around it.
The area was flooded with children and women.
“Warned us? They warned us with rockets and we fled without taking anything,” said Huda Shamalakh, who lived next door. It was said that 15 people lived at the target home.
Because of a lack fuel, the lone Gaza power plant came to an abrupt halt Saturday noon. Israel had closed all crossings into Gaza since Tuesday. With the new disruption, Gazans can get only 4 hours of electricity a day, increasing their reliance on private generators and deepening the territory’s chronic power crisis amid peak summer heat.
The day was filled with rocket launches by Gaza militants towards southern Israel. However, there weren’t any reports of injuries. Most barrages were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, hit in empty areas or fell short into Gaza. The roof of a house in Sderot was damaged by rockets, however the family was safe in shelter.
On Friday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a televised speech that “Israel isn’t interested in a broader conflict in Gaza but will not shy away from one either.”
“This government has a zero-tolerance policy for any attempted attacks — of any kind — from Gaza towards Israeli territory,” he said. “Israel will not sit idly by when there are those who are trying to harm its civilians.”
Lapid is facing a challenge from the violence. Lapid assumed the role as caretaker prime Minister in advance of November’s elections.
Lapid is an author and former TV host who are centrists. Although he has extensive diplomatic experience, having previously served as the foreign minister under the current government, Lapid has very limited security credentials. As he takes on Benjamin Netanyahu, the security hawk and former prime minister of Israel who has commanded it during all four wars against Hamas, Lapid could see his standing improve.
Hamas is also faced with a decision about whether or not to participate in another battle, barely one year after its last war that caused extensive destruction. Since then there has been virtually no reconstruction and the coastal area is in extreme poverty with unemployment at around half of its former self. Israel and Egypt have kept a strong blockade of the territory ever since Hamas tookover in 2007.
A senior Egyptian intelligence official stated that Egypt had intensified its efforts to prevent an escalation. He also communicated with Israel and the Palestinians to ensure Hamas did not join the fighting. An official speaking on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t allowed to discuss the matter with media.
According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 15 people were killed while more than 80 others were injured. It did not distinguish between militants and civilians. According to the Israeli military, 15 militants died in initial estimates.
This week’s latest Israel-Gaza violence stemmed from the arrest of an Islamic Jihad senior leader in West Bank as part of a long Israeli military operation. Another teen Islamic Jihad member was killed during a gunbattle.
Israel closed the roads to Gaza, and then sent reinforcements along the border warning about retaliation. On Friday, it killed Islamic Jihad’s commander for northern Gaza, Taiseer al-Jabari, in a strike on a Gaza City apartment building.
An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles.
Another Israeli strike overnight was largely concentrated in Gaza City’s outskirts or rural areas. It targeted rocket-building sites, Islamic Jihad camp, and rocket launchers.
Overnight, Israeli media showed the skies above southern and central Israel lighting up with rockets and interceptors from Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system.
The U.N. special envoy to the region, Tor Wennesland, said: “The launching of rockets must cease immediately, and I call on all sides to avoid further escalation.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve soldiers if needed while the military announced a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and limits placed on activities in communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the border.
In 2007, Hamas took control of Gaza from Palestinian rival forces, two years after Israel retreated from the coast strip. The most recent war it fought with Israel took place in May 2021. Tensions rose again in this year’s aftermath of a series of Israeli attacks, near daily military operations in West Bank and tensions at the holy shrine Jerusalem flashpoint.
Although smaller in size than Hamas, the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad shares much of its ideology. Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out scores of deadly attacks over the years, including the firing of rockets into Israel.
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