Palestinian health officials said on Friday that at least eight people were killed after Israeli forces bombed targets in Gaza.
Among the dead was a five-year-old child, and 44 were wounded in the strikes, officials said. Palestinian officials claimed that one of the dead was a senior activist.
Israel said it was targeting Islamic Jihad and the strikes come after tensions escalated following the arrest of prominent activist Bassam al-Saadi in the occupied West Bank earlier this week.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement that “the Israeli government will not allow terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to set the agenda in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and threaten the citizens of the State of Israel.”
“Anyone trying to harm Israel should know: We will find you.”
Israel said it was targeting the militants in an operation called “Breaking Dawn”. It also announced a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and restrictions imposed on other activities in communities located 50 miles from the border.
The strikes threaten to ignite another war in the area controlled by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and home to about two million Palestinians. The assassination of a senior activist is likely to be met with rocket fire from Gaza, pushing the region closer to all-out war.
Islamic Jihad said in a statement that it would seek revenge for the attack.
“The enemy started a war against our people and against us, and we will defend ourselves and our people,” the statement said.
Officials said Taysir al-Jabari, a prominent leader of the movement, was killed.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza confirmed the occurrence of a number of casualties and declared a state of emergency. Television footage showed black smoke rising from the roof of a building in a densely populated sector.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes in the 15 years since the hardline movement seized power in the coastal enclave from rival Palestinian forces.
The most recent was in May 2021.
The leader of Islamic Jihad, Ziad al-Nakhala, said in an interview with the Iranian Al-Mayadeen network: “We are starting to fight, and the Palestinian resistance fighters must stand together to confront this aggression.”
He said there would be no “red lines” in the confrontation and blamed Israel for the violence.
“The Israeli enemy, which started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman.
Islamic Jihad opposes Israel’s existence and has carried out attacks over the years, including firing rockets into southern Israel. It is unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.