Israel launched deadly airstrikes on Gaza on Saturday and the Palestinian militant group responded with a barrage of rocket fire, in the worst escalation of violence since last year’s war.
Israel said it was forced to launch a “preemptive” operation against Islamic Jihad and the group was planning an imminent attack after days of tension along the Gaza border.
Health officials in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, said a five-year-old girl was among the 12 people killed in Israeli bombardment. More than 80 people have been injured.
The Israeli army warned on Saturday that it was “preparing an operation to last a week,” while the only power station in the Gaza Strip remained shut down due to a lack of fuel after Israel closed the border crossing.
Both Israel and Islamic Jihad have confirmed that Taysir al-Jabari, a key leader of Islamic Jihad, was killed in Friday’s attack on a building west of Gaza City.
Islamic Jihad is aligned with Hamas, but often operates independently. It said the initial Israeli bombardment was a “declaration of war” and fired a barrage of rockets toward Israel.
Sources within the militant group soon denied a ceasefire, saying: “The focus for the movement is on the battlefield,” while an Israeli military spokesman told AFP the army was “not negotiating a ceasefire at the moment”.
Rocket fire and Israeli attacks continued on Saturday, threatening a repeat of the 11-day conflict in May 2021 that devastated Gaza and forced countless Israelis to flee to bomb shelters.
Daily life in the Palestinian enclave has come to a standstill, with streets largely deserted and most shops closed.
‘will not be ashamed’
Gaza’s power plant shut down on Saturday “due to fuel shortages” after Israel cut off key crossings four days ago, a spokesman for the enclave’s electricity distributor said.
Diesel for the plant is usually trucked in from Egypt or Israel, which closed two border crossings with Gaza on Tuesday, citing security concerns.
“Israel is not interested in a wider conflict in Gaza, but it will not walk away from one,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a nationally televised speech on Friday.
Air raid sirens sounded in southern Israel on Saturday, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage.
Authorities in border areas urged people to stay close to shelters, which have also been opened in the coastal city of Tel Aviv.
Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since seizing Gaza in 2007, including a conflict last May.
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are considered terrorist organizations by the West.
Islamic Jihad erupted in 2019 following the assassination of Jabari’s predecessor, Baha Abu al-Ata, by Israel. Hamas did not enter the field in that area.
Hamas’ move could be decisive now, with the group facing pressure from some to restore peace in order to improve economic conditions in Gaza.
A five-year-old girl
Mohammed Abu Salameh, director of the main hospital in Shifa, Gaza City, said doctors were experiencing a “severe shortage of medical supplies”.
On Friday, the Health Ministry reported that “a five-year-old girl targeted by the Israeli occupation” was among those killed.
The girl, Ala Qaddum, had a pink bow in her hair and a scar on her forehead, as her body was carried by her father in her funeral.
“We assume around 15 were killed in action” in Gaza, Israeli military spokesman Richard Hecht said Friday, referring to Palestinian fighters.
Israeli tanks were lined up along the border after the army said on Thursday.
The move follows the arrest in the occupied West Bank of two senior members of Islamic Jihad, including Bassem al-Saadi, whom Israel has accused of orchestrating recent attacks.
Israel stepped up its crackdown on Islamic Jihad on Saturday, announcing the arrest of 19 people believed to be members of the group in the occupied West Bank.
Israel has carried out multiple deadly raids inside the West Bank since mid-March in response to deadly attacks on Israeli civilians.
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