Israeli and Gaza missiles are on their second day

The worst fire in more than a year between Israeli and Gaza militants dragged on into a second day on Saturday, with an exchange of rocket fire and airstrikes that destroyed homes and raised the death toll in two days of fighting to at least 24 people, including six children. , according to Palestinian health officials.

The Israeli military said it hit two homes in Gaza belonging to Islamic Jihad militants, which they called arms depots. Military officials said advance warnings had been issued and that buildings had been evacuated before the strikes.

Islamic Jihad and other smaller Palestinian militant groups in Gaza fired rockets at Israeli towns near the territory and towns further in central Israel, including Tel Aviv, forcing Israeli holidaymakers to flee for cover. Israel claimed that Islamic Jihad fired 400 rockets in two days.

Renewed tensions have highlighted the problem of preventing outbreaks in Israel and the occupied territories, with both Israeli and Palestinian leaderships divided and politically weak, international attention focused elsewhere, and little hope of ending the 15-year blockade of Gaza. in Israel and Egypt.

“There is no end in sight to this cycle, and it seems that no participant wants to create a more stable alternative,” said the professor. Nathan J. Brown is a Middle East expert at The George Washington University.

This round of fighting, which began on Friday with Israeli airstrikes, has basically pitted Israel against Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second-largest militant group. Hamas, the dominant militia in Gaza, has so far refrained from direct involvement, raising hope that the conflict does not escalate into a larger war.

On Saturday evening, Israel signaled it was ready to accept the ceasefire, with an Israeli military spokesman telling reporters that Israel would cease fire if Islamic Jihad stopped first.

The Palestinian deaths on Saturday brought the death toll to at least 20 in two days, health officials in Gaza said. One of those killed on Friday was a 5-year-old girl. Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht said the child’s father was a high-ranking Islamic Jihad commander, but did not say whether he was the target of the airstrike that killed his daughter.

The family did not comment on whether the father was associated with Islamic Jihad.

Three other children were were killed on Saturday, although it was not immediately clear whether they were hit by an Israeli strike or a Palestinian missile that misfired. The Israeli military said they were killed in a failed launch of an Islamic Jihad missile.

At least two Israeli soldiers and one civilian were injured, according to Israeli officials and news reports. But most of the Palestinian missiles either landed in open areas or were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, according to the military.

The only power plant in Gaza stopped working due to the cessation of fuel supplies from Israel, which led to a further decrease in power in large parts of the territory. A second senior Israeli military official, speaking to reporters on Saturday on condition of anonymity in order to comply with army regulations, said Israel was in touch with Egypt about how to get more fuel into Gaza while under rocket fire.

When Israel launched the airstrikes on Friday, it said it acted preemptively to prevent an imminent Islamic Jihad attack in Gaza. Earlier this week, Israel arrested a senior figure from a West Bank group that led to threats of reprisals. Israel has said its airstrikes are intended to prevent Islamic Jihad from realizing these threats.

A high-ranking Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza and a group of return fire with rockets and mortars, resulting in thousands of Israelis on the night of Friday were in bomb shelters.

After the 11-day war last May, Israel persuaded Gaza militias to avoid violence by offering 14,000 work permits to Palestinian workers in the territory, the most since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007.

About two million people live in Gaza, and most of them do not directly benefit from the new permits. But the permits nonetheless provide vital financial assistance to thousands of families in an enclave where nearly one in two is unemployed and only one in ten has direct access to clean water. according to UNICEF.

Fearing to lose this concession, especially at a time when it is still rebuilding military infrastructure damaged during the last war, Hamas avoided a major escalation in Gaza throughout the year by continuing to encourage unrest and violence in Israel and the West Bank.

But Islamic Jihad, which, unlike Hamas, does not rule Gaza, is less motivated by small economic concessions.

This is at least the sixth surge of violence in Gaza since Hamas seized control in 2007, prompting Israel and Egypt to launch a blockade. Israel is not ready to end the blockade as long as Hamas is in power and until Hamas recognizes Israel and refuses to stop its armed activities.

In the absence of a formal peace process to end the conflict, repeated bursts of violence in Gaza, as well as periodic bursts of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, are seen as alternative ways to renegotiate the Gaza blockade.

“In the absence of anything more durable, both sides resort to violence not to defeat the other side, much less destroy it, but simply to correct the conditions and also play on the home audience,” said Mr. Mr Trump. Brown, an expert on the Middle East.

The last two days of the conflict in Gaza may be linked to an upsurge of violence in Israel and the West Bank a few months ago. A spate of attacks by Palestinians against civilians in Israel in April and May led to an increase in Israeli raids in the West Bank, especially in areas where the attackers and their collaborators had come from, according to Israeli officials.

The Israeli campaign has resulted in almost nightly arrests in the West Bank over the past few months and culminated this week in the arrest of Bassem Saadi, a senior Islamic Jihad figure.

The new round of violence also served as a reminder of Iran’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Tehran’s nuclear program is seen by Israel as the biggest threat, Iran also wields regional influence, providing financial and logistical assistance to militants in the Middle East such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza.

The first Israeli strikes on Gaza came during a visit by Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nahal to Tehran to meet with the group’s Iranian backers, a factor that may have contributed to the group’s refusal to drop its recent threats.

“Because of their complete dependence on the Iranians, they are forced to do what the Iranians tell them to do,” said Kobi Michael, a national security expert at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The crisis also marks the first major test for Yair Lapid, Israel’s interim prime minister, who took office last month after his predecessor’s government collapsed.

The military operation is a risky gambit for Mr. Lapid, a centrist often ridiculed for his lack of security experience by his main rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister who now leads the opposition.

While this gives Mr. Lapid a chance to prove his security credentials to the Israeli electorate, it also leaves him open to accusations that he is endangering the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians.

In Gaza, mourners were already counting the cost of two days of fighting.

Relatives of Alaa Kadum, a 5-year-old girl who died in an airstrike on Friday, wrapped her body in a white shroud and Palestinian flags for burial on Friday. A bright pink bow tied most of her hair back.

“Alaa was a fun little girl who didn’t hurt anyone,” her grandfather, Riad Kadum, 56, said in an interview. “She didn’t shoot rockets and she didn’t fight anyone.”

A second senior Israeli military official who briefed reporters on Saturday said he was aware of reports of her death, adding that any civilian deaths would be investigated. But in the past, Israel has blamed militants for civilian deaths, saying they often place their missile launchers and bases near homes and infrastructure.

At a separate press briefing at a military base near the Gaza border in late July, senior Israeli military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with army regulations, presented maps showing the routes of what they said were part of the militants’ tunnel network. including sections under roads around a major university in Gaza.

The duration and scope of the fighting will depend in part on Hamas involvement.

Ismail Haniya, leader of the Hamas politburo, said on Friday that the group was “open to all directions.”

But tensions could escalate in Jerusalem on Sunday as Jews celebrate Tisha B’Av. commemorating the destruction of two ancient Jewish temples at a site that is now sacred to both Jews and Muslims. A large number of Jewish worshipers are expected to visit this site, known as the Aksa Mosque Complex or Temple Mount.

Such visits often spark unrest that could lead to more rocket fire from Gaza.

Raja Abdulrahim, Carol Sutherland and Feidy Hanona contributed reporting.