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Israeli airstrikes canceled out home in Gaza on Saturday, and Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel have continued for a second day, raising fears of a major new escalation in the Middle East conflict. The Gaza Health Ministry said 24 people, including six children, had died in the coastal strip so far.
The fighting began with the killing by Israel of a senior commander of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad in Friday’s wave of strikes, which Israel said were intended to prevent an imminent attack.
So far, Hamas, the more paramilitary group ruling Gazaseemed to stay out of the conflict, somewhat holding back its intensity. Just a year ago, Israel and Hamas were at war, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles in the past 15 years that have taken a staggering toll on the 2 million Palestinians living in the impoverished territory.
Whether Hamas will continue to stay out of the fight probably depends in part on how hard Israel punishes Gaza as the rocket attacks continue.
The Israeli military said Palestinian militants fired a misguided rocket late Saturday night, killing civilians, including children, in the northern Gaza city of Jabalia. The military said they were investigating the incident and “without a doubt” concluded it was caused by a misfire on the part of Islamic Jihad. There have been no official Palestinian comments on the incident.
Palestinian health workerwho was not authorized to inform the media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the explosion killed at least six people, including three children.
Earlier Saturday, Israeli warplanes hit four residences in Gaza City that appeared to be linked to Islamic Jihad. There were no reports of casualties. In each case, the Israeli military warned residents before striking.
Another strike on Saturday hit a car, killing a 75-year-old woman and injuring six others.
In one of the strikes, after warnings, fighter jets dropped two bombs on the home of an Islamic Jihad member. The explosion flattened the two-story building, leaving a large crater filled with rubble and badly damaged the surrounding houses.
The women and children ran away.
“Warned us? We were warned by rockets and ran away without taking anything,” says Khuda Shamalakh, who lived next door. She said that 15 people lived in the target house.
Among 24 Palestinians killed there were six children and two women, as well as a senior Islamic Jihad commander. The Gaza Health Ministry said more than 200 people were injured. It does not distinguish between civilians and militants. The Israeli military said on Friday that it was estimated that about 15 militants had been killed.
The only power plant in Gaza was shut down at noon Saturday due to a lack of fuel as Israel closed its checkpoints in Gaza since Tuesday. With the new glitch, Gazans can only get electricity for 4 hours a day, increasing their reliance on private generators and exacerbating the territory’s chronic energy crisis in the midst of the summer heatwave.
During the day, Gaza militants regularly fired rockets into Israel. On Saturday evening, the Israeli military said that about 450 rockets were fired, 350 of which hit Israeli territory, but almost all of them were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Two people received minor shrapnel wounds.
A single rocket salvo was fired towards Tel Aviv, the military said, setting off sirens that sent residents to shelter, but the rockets were either intercepted or fell into the sea.
Sunday could be a critical day of the outbreak as Jews celebrate Tisha Beav, a dark day of fasting dedicated to the destruction of biblical temples. Thousands of people are expected at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and Israeli media reported that the Israeli leadership had to allow lawmakers to visit a key hilltop holy site in the city, which is a hotbed of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
On Friday night, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a televised address that “Israel is not interested in a wider conflict in Gaza, but will not shy away from it.”
The violence is an early test for Lapid, who has taken on the role of interim prime minister ahead of November elections when he hopes to keep the post.
Lapid, a centrist former broadcaster and writer, has a background in diplomacy, having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has weak security credentials. Conflict with Gaza could bolster his reputation and give him support when he faces former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who has led the country in three of the four wars with Hamas.
Hamas is also facing a dilemma in deciding whether to engage in a new battle just a year after the last war caused widespread destruction. Since then, there has been little to no reconstruction, and the isolated coastal area has sunk into poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%. Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade of the territory since the Hamas takeover in 2007.
Egypt on Saturday Efforts to prevent escalation have intensified, communicating with Israel, the Palestinians and the United States to prevent Hamas from joining the fighting, an Egyptian intelligence official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The latest round of violence between Israel and Gaza involved the arrest earlier this week of a senior Leader of Islamic Jihad in the West Bank as part of a months-long Israeli military operation there. A member of the Islamic Jihad movement was also killed in the shootout.
Israel then closed the roads around Gaza and sent reinforcements to the border, warning of retaliation. On Friday, militants killed northern Gaza Islamic Jihad commander Taysir al-Jabari in an attack on an apartment building in Gaza City.
An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were in response to an “imminent threat” from two groups of militants armed with anti-tank missiles.
Israel has approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve soldiers if necessary. Authorities closed schools and imposed restrictions on other activities in communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the border.
Hamas seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, two years after Israel’s withdrawal from the coastal strip. His last war with Israel took place in May 2021. Tensions rose again earlier this year following a spate of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank, and tensions in Jerusalem’s hotspot, a sacred place.
Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas, but largely shares his ideology. Both groups oppose the existence of Israel and have carried out many deadly attacks over the years, including rocket attacks on Israel.