Israeli airstrikes flattened homes in the Gaza Strip on Saturday and continued rocket fire into southern Israel, raising fears of an escalation in the conflict that has killed at least 15 people along the coast.
The battle begins in IsraelIsrael said it was to prevent an imminent attack. A 5-year-old girl and two women were killed in the strike.
Hamas, the larger militant group that rules the Gaza Strip so far, appears to have taken a wait-and-see approach to the conflict, controlling its intensity to some extent. Israel and Hamas fought a war just a year ago, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles over the past 15 years, that have taken a staggering effect on the impoverished region’s 2 million Palestinian residents. loss.
Whether Hamas remains on the sidelines may depend in part on how much punishment Israel imposes in Gaza as rockets continue to be fired.
A erroneous rocket fired by Palestinian militants killed civilians, including children, in the northern Gaza town of Jabaliya late Saturday, the Israeli military said. The military said it investigated the incident and concluded “without question” that it was caused by the Islamic Jihad fire. Palestine has made no official comment on the incident.
A Palestinian medic who was not authorized to brief the media and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity said the blast killed at least six people, including three children.
Earlier on Saturday, Israeli warplanes intensified their attacks on four residential buildings in Gaza City, all of which were apparently linked to Islamic Jihad militants. In the dense city, the current exchange of fire damage is the most serious, but no casualties have been reported. In each case, the Israeli military warned residents before the attack.
Another strike on Saturday hit a car, killing a 75-year-old woman and injuring six others.
In one attack, fighter jets dropped two bombs on the house of an Islamic Jihad member after a warning was issued. The explosion flattened the two-story building, leaving a large crater full of rubble and severely damaged surrounding homes.
Women and children rushed out of the area.
“Warning us? They warned us with rockets and we fled with nothing,” said Huda Shamalah, who lives next door. She said 15 people lived in the targeted homes.
Gaza’s only power plant was shut down at noon on Saturday due to a lack of fuel, as Israel has closed the border crossing into Gaza since Tuesday. With the new outages, Gazans are limited to four hours of electricity a day, increasing their reliance on private generators and deepening the region’s long-running power crisis during the peak summer heat.
Throughout the day, Gaza militants regularly fired rockets into Israel. The Israeli military said late Saturday that it had fired nearly 450 rockets, 350 of which entered Israel, but nearly all of them were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Both suffered minor shrapnel wounds.
The military said a rocket was fired at Tel Aviv, setting off an alarm and sending residents to shelters, but the rocket was either intercepted or fell into the sea.
Sunday could be a pivotal day for the outbreak, as Jews commemorate Tisha B’av, a dark day of fasting commemorating the destruction of the biblical temple. Thousands of people are expected to gather at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, Israeli media reports said Israeli leaders are expected to allow lawmakers to visit a key hilltop shrine in the city, a flashpoint of violence between Israelis and Palestinians .
“Israel is not interested in the wider conflict in Gaza, but it will not shy away from it,” Israeli Prime Minister Yar Rapid said in a televised address Friday night.
“This administration has a zero-tolerance policy toward any attempted attack — of any kind — from the Gaza Strip to Israeli territory,” he said. “Israel will not sit idly by when someone tries to harm its civilians.”
The violence posed an early test for Lapid, who was looking to keep the job as caretaker prime minister ahead of the November election.
Rapid, a centrist former TV host and author who served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, has diplomatic experience but weak security credentials. The conflict with Gaza could boost his stature and get a boost from his standoff with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who is in the middle of a four-game clash with Hamas. Lead the country in three of the wars.
Hamas also faces a dilemma when deciding whether to join the new fight, just a year after the last war caused widespread destruction. Little has been rebuilt since then, with isolated coastal areas mired in poverty and unemployment hovering around 50%. Israel and Egypt have imposed a tight seal on the territory since Hamas took over in 2007.
Egypt stepped up efforts to prevent escalation on Saturday, communicating with Israel, the Palestinians and the United States to prevent Hamas from joining the fight, an Egyptian intelligence official said. The official declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health put the death toll at 15 and said more than 80 were injured. The ministry did not distinguish between civilians and militants. The Israeli military said early estimates were that about 15 fighters were killed.
The latest round of violence in Israel-Gaza stems from the arrest of a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank earlier this week as part of Israel’s month-long military campaign in the territory. A teenage Islamic Jihad member was also killed in the shootout.
Israel then closed roads around Gaza and sent reinforcements to the border, warning of retaliation. The Islamic Jihad commander in the northern Gaza Strip, Tesser Jabari, was killed in a strike at an apartment building in Gaza City on Friday.
An Israeli military spokesman said the strike was in response to the “imminent threat” of two armed squads armed with anti-tank missiles.
Other strikes in Israel have largely attacked suburban or rural areas of Gaza City overnight, targeting what Israel says are rocket launchers, rocket construction sites and Islamic Jihad camps.
Defense Secretary Benny Gantz approved an order to call in 25,000 reservists if necessary, while the military declared an “extraordinary situation” on the domestic front, with schools closed and within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the border community activities are restricted.
In 2007, two years after Israel withdrew from the coast, Hamas seized power in Gaza from Palestinian rivals. Its most recent war with Israel occurred in May 2021. Tensions soared again earlier this year after a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions over holy sites in Jerusalem.
The Iran-backed Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but shares its ideology to a large extent. Both groups oppose Israel’s presence and have carried out dozens of deadly attacks over the years, including firing rockets into Israel.