Israeli aircraft struck in Gaza and Palestinians fired rockets deep into Israel on Saturday, a day after an Israeli operation against the Islamic Jihad militant group set off a cross-border flare-up that ended more than a year of relative calm.
Islamic Jihad fired rocket salvoes as far as Israel’s commercial hub Tel Aviv, after Israel killed one of the group’s senior commanders in a surprise daytime air strike on a Gaza City tower on Friday.
Israel struck more Islamic Jihad militants and weapon depots hidden in residential areas on Saturday, the military said. Bombings of at least five houses sent huge clouds of smoke and debris into the air, as explosions rocked Gaza and ambulances rushed through the streets.
The Israeli strikes have killed 15 Palestinians, including at least four other Islamic Jihad militants and three civilians, among them a child, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. It added scores more had been wounded.
Palestinian militants fired at least 200 rockets at Israel – most of them intercepted, setting off air raids sirens and sending people running to bomb shelters. There were no reports of serious casualties, the Israeli ambulance service said.
Egypt said it was engaged in intensive talks to calm the situation. Further escalation would largely depend on whether Hamas, the Islamic militant group which controls Gaza, would opt to join the fighting.
An Egyptian intelligence delegation headed by Major General Ahmed Abdelkhaliq arrived in Israel on Saturday and would be travelling to Gaza for mediation talks, two Egyptian security sources said. They were hoping to secure a day’s ceasefire in order to carry out the talks, the sources added.
Islamic Jihad signalled no ceasefire was imminent. “The time now is for resistance, not a truce,” a group official told Reuters. The group has not said how many of its members have been killed since Friday.
Around 2.3 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal Gaza Strip, with Israel and Egypt tightly restricting movement of people and goods in and out of the enclave and imposing a naval blockade, citing security concerns.
Israel stopped the planned transport of fuel into Gaza shortly before it struck on Friday, crippling the territory’s lone power plant and reducing electricity to around 8 hours per day and drawing warnings from health officials that hospitals would be severely impacted within days.
The frontier had been largely quiet since May 2021, when 11 days of fierce fighting between Israel and militants left at least 250 in Gaza and 13 in Israel dead.
U.N. and EU Mideast envoys expressed concern about the violence and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority condemned Israel’s attacks. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said on Twitter that “Israel has a right to protect itself.”
Gaza streets were largely deserted on Saturday afternoon. At the site where top Islamic Jihad commander Tayseer al-Jaabari was killed, rubble, glass and furniture were strewn along the street.
In Israel, border town streets were largely empty while brushfires sparked by rockets spread through nearby fields.
Islamic Jihad said it had fired a missile at Israel’s main international gateway, Ben Gurion Airport, but the rocket fell short around 20 kilometres (12 miles) away. The Civil Aviation Authority said the airport was operating normally.
Tensions rose this week after Israeli forces arrested an Islamic Jihad commander in the occupied West Bank, drawing threats of retaliation from the group. The military said it had apprehended 19 more members of the group there on Saturday.
Israeli Defence Minister said dozens of the group’s rocket facilities in Gaza had been destroyed. Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the operation thwarted an imminent attack by Islamic Jihad, which is backed by Iran and designated as a terrorist organisation by the West. read more
Israeli political analysts said the military operation provided Lapid with an opportunity to bolster his security credentials ahead of a Nov. 1 election.