Israel and Palestine trade fire in major Gaza escalation

Israel and Palestine trade fire in major Gaza escalation

Gaza health authorities said 12 people had been killed by Israeli shelling.

Gaza City:

Israel hit Gaza with airstrikes on Saturday and a Palestinian terror group retaliated with a barrage of rocket fire, in the territory’s worst escalation of violence since a war last year.

Israel said it was forced to launch a “pre-emptive” operation against Islamic Jihad, insisting the group planned an imminent attack after days of tension along the Gaza border.

Health authorities in Gaza, a Palestinian enclave controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, said 12 people had been killed by Israeli shelling, including a five-year-old girl, and more than 80 others injured.

Israel’s closure of a major goods crossing point four days ago led to the shutdown of Gaza’s only power plant on Saturday.

Israel and Islamic Jihad both confirmed the killing of Taysir al-Jabari, a key terrorist leader, in a Friday strike on a building west of Gaza City.

Islamic Jihad, a group aligned with Hamas but often acting independently, said the first Israeli bombardment amounted to a “declaration of war” and unleashed a barrage of rockets towards Israel.

Israeli rocket fire and strikes continued 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.

Daily life in the enclave has come to a standstill, with streets largely deserted and most shops closed.

Mohammed Thabet, spokesman for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company, said on Saturday that the power station had been shut down “due to fuel shortages”.

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.

Climbing, mediation

“Israel is not interested in a broader conflict in Gaza, but it will not shy away from it either,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a nationally televised address on Friday.

Air raid sirens sounded in southern Israel on Saturday, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage.

The Israeli military said the vast majority of the 160 rockets fired from Gaza fell on Palestinian territory or were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.

Border area officials have urged people to stay close to shelters, which have also been opened in the coastal city of Tel Aviv.

Egypt, a historic intermediary between Israel and armed groups in Gaza, was seeking to mediate and could host an Islamic Jihad delegation later Saturday, Egyptian officials in Gaza told AFP.

But sources within Islamic Jihad denied that a ceasefire was on the cards, with one saying: “There is absolutely no question of Egyptian mediation and for the movement, the focus is on the battlefield”.

The Arab League “condemned in the strongest terms the ferocious Israeli aggression against Gaza”.

Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since it took control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict last May.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are considered terrorist organizations by much of the West.

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 this episode.

Hamas’ actions could now prove crucial, as the group faces pressure from some to restore calm in order to improve economic conditions in Gaza.

five year old girl

Mohammed Abu Salameh, the director of Shifa, Gaza City’s main hospital, said doctors are facing “a severe shortage of medical supplies”.

On Friday, the Health Ministry said “a five-year-old girl, targeted by the Israeli occupation” was among those killed.

The young girl, Alaa Kaddum, had a pink bow in her hair and a wound on her forehead, as her body was carried by her father at his funeral.

Israeli army spokesman Richard Hecht said “we assume around 15 people were killed in action” in Gaza, referring to Palestinian fighters.

Israeli tanks were lined up along the border, after the army said on Thursday it was reinforcing its troops.

These measures follow the arrest in the occupied West Bank of two senior Islamic Jihad figures, including Bassem al-Saadi, whom Israel accuses of orchestrating the recent attacks.

Israel expanded its operation against Islamic Jihad on Saturday, announcing the arrest of 19 people it said belonged to the group in the occupied West Bank.

Israel has carried out an almost relentless wave of often deadly raids inside the West Bank since mid-March in response to deadly attacks on Israeli citizens.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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