Israel hit Gaza with deadly air strikes on Saturday and a Palestinian militant group retaliated with a barrage of rocket fire, in the territory’s worst escalation of violence since a war last year.
Israel has said it was forced to launch a “pre-emptive” operation against Islamic Jihad, insisting the group was planning an imminent attack following days of tensions along the Gaza border.
The Israeli military warned Saturday it was “preparing for the operation to last a week,” while the sole power station in Gaza ground to a halt due to a lack of fuel after Israel closed border crossings.
Islamic Jihad is aligned with Hamas, but often acts independently. It said the initial Israeli bombardment amounted to a “declaration of war” and unleashed a barrage of rockets towards Israel.
The rocket fire and Israeli strikes were continuing on Saturday, risking a repeat of an 11-day conflict in May 2021 that devastated Gaza and forced countless Israelis to rush to bomb shelters.
– ‘Will not shy away’ –
Diesel for the plant is usually trucked in from Egypt or Israel, which closed its two border crossings with Gaza on Tuesday citing security concerns.
Air raid sirens sounded across southern Israel on Saturday, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage.
Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict last May.
A flare up with Islamic Jihad came in 2019, following Israel’s killing of Baha Abu al-Ata, Jabari’s predecessor. Hamas did not join the fray in that episode.
– Five-year-old girl –
On Friday, the health ministry reported “a five-year-old girl, targeted by the Israeli occupation” was among those killed.
Israeli military spokesman Richard Hecht said Friday “we are assuming about 15 killed in action” in Gaza, referring to Palestinian combatants.
The measures followed the arrest in the occupied West Bank of two senior members of Islamic Jihad, including Bassem al-Saadi, who Israel accuses of orchestrating recent attacks.
Israel has conducted a near relentless wave of often deadly raids inside the West Bank since mid-March in response to lethal attacks on Israeli citizens.