Fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip dragged on Saturday for a second day in what became the largest fire in the territory for the year.
Israel, which launched a military operation on Friday with a series of airstrikes on Gaza, hit missile factories and warehouses belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group on Saturday. The militants fired rockets at Israeli cities closest to Gaza.
Local news reports showed images of two residential buildings destroyed by Israeli missile strikes on Saturday. The Israeli military said their helicopters and ships targeted two weapons depots, which they said were located “in the residences of militants of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip.” It was not immediately clear whether they belonged to the same residential buildings.
According to Israeli police and local media reports, rockets fired from Gaza hit a house in the Israeli border town of Sderot and another Israeli community near the Gaza border on Saturday. One civilian was slightly injured.
At noon, sirens warning of incoming rocket fire sounded further north in the Israeli port city of Ashdod.
The death toll of Palestinians in two days of fighting had risen to 15 by Saturday afternoon, with 125 injured, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Among those killed on Friday was a 5-year-old girl.
On Saturday, two Israeli soldiers were wounded by a mortar shell that landed on an Israeli utility farm near the Gaza border, the military said.
Most of the shells fired at Israeli territory appear to have either landed in open areas or been intercepted by the country’s Iron Dome air defense system.
A ceasefire did not appear imminent, despite early mediation efforts by international actors, including the United Nations. Ismail Haniya, leader of the politburo of Hamas, the dominant Islamic militant group in Gaza, said he spoke with officials from Egypt and Qatar, as well as United Nations officials, during the night.
Fighting broke out on Friday afternoon when Israel launched airstrikes that it said were an attempt to thwart an imminent attack from Gaza by Islamic Jihad after nearly a week of rising tensions between Israel and Gaza’s second-largest militant group. Israeli officials have said they are only targeting Islamic Jihad, after they said it was on the verge of launching anti-tank missiles at Israeli targets on Friday afternoon.
This week Israel arrested one of the group’s senior commanders in the West Bank, leading to death threats from the Gaza leadership. An Israeli airstrike on Friday killed Tayseer al-Jabari, a senior leader of Islamic Jihad’s armed wing.
The Israeli military also said it had arrested 19 Islamic Jihad fighters during nighttime raids in the occupied West Bank.
On Saturday morning, Israeli military spokesman Ran Kochav told Israeli public radio that the fighting was likely to last at least a week and that no talks were underway to end the hostilities.
But overnight, the militants reduced the range of their rocket fire, targeting mostly areas close to Gaza rather than cities further north, which they had originally targeted.
Analysts say recalibration could prevent further escalation of the situation, as would Hamas’ decision to stay out of the fighting.
Islamic Jihad sometimes operates independently of Hamas, which does not always support the smaller faction in missile wars with Israel.
Fady Hanona contributed reporting.