Cairo: Israel’s military warned Saturday deadly air strikes against Palestinian fighters in Gaza could last a week, as cross-border fire reverberated for a second day in the worst escalation since last year’s war.
Israeli jets pounded targets of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group in Gaza as the latter continued to fire a barrage of rockets on southern Israel in the worst bout of fighting since May 2021.
At least 15 people, including a senior Jihad leader and a 5-year-old girl, were killed and 125 others injured in a series of Israeli airstrikes, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
The Israeli military said early estimates were that around 15 fighters were killed.
A three-floor building in south-western Gaza was completely destroyed on Saturday after it was hit by Israeli jets, the Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
An Israeli military spokesman said its forces were “preparing for the operation to last a week,” and told AFP that the army is “not currently holding ceasefire negotiations”.
An Israeli warplane, meanwhile, fired two rockets at a site in western Gaza, destroying it and damaging nearby house, the agency added.
The enclave’s energy authorities said Gaza’s only power station stopped work after fuel supplies necessary for operating the facility had not been delivered due to Israel’s shutdown of crossings.
The fighting that began Friday with Israel’s dramatic targeted killing of a senior commander of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza continued throughout the night, drawing the sides closer to an all-out war.
But the territory’s Hamas rulers appeared to stay on the sidelines of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat contained, for now, AP reported.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the last 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.
Egypt said Saturday it was making “intensive” efforts to de-escalate the situation.
“The Arab Republic of Egypt is making intensive contacts round the clock to contain the situation in Gaza, achieve calmness and protect people and property,” the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement.
The latest round of Israel-Gaza violence was sparked by the arrest this week of a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, part of a month-long Israeli military operation in the territory.
Citing a security threat, Israel then sealed roads around Gaza and on Friday killed the group’s senior commander Tayseer Al Jabari in a targeted strike.
Al Jabari was the Islamic Jihad’s commander for northern Gaza. He had succeeded another commander killed in an airstrike in 2019.
Overnight, Israel struck rocket launchers, rocket building sites and Islamic Jihad positions. It also arrested 19 Islamic Jihad militants in the West Bank, the military said.
Israeli media showed the skies above southern and central Israel lighting up with rockets and interceptors from Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defence system.
Israel closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it braced for a revenge attack after Monday’s arrest of Bassam Al Saadi, an Islamic Jihad leader, in a military raid in the West Bank.
In a nationally televised speech 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 attacks of any kind from Gaza towards Israeli territory,” Lapid said. “Israel will not sit idly by when there are those who are trying to harm its civilians,” he said.
“Israel isn’t interested in a broader conflict in Gaza, but will not shy away from one either,” Lapid added.
The violence poses an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of elections in November, when he hopes to keep the position.
A conflict with Gaza could burnish his standing and give him a boost 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 join a new battle barely 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%.
Israeli Defence 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 kilometres of the border.
- with inputs from AP