The Israeli army and Palestinian gunmen in Gaza exchanged more fire on Saturday morning, as the biggest fire in the Strip in a year entered the second day.
Israel targeted what it said were rocket factories and warehouses belonging to Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second largest armed group, after Hamas, while Palestinian militants fired rockets and mortars at Israeli towns closest to the strip’s fringes.
A Palestinian was killed in the night strikes, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, bringing the total number of Palestinian fatalities to 11, including a 5-year-old girl, while two Israelis were injured while seeking shelter on Friday.
Most of the shells that entered Israeli territory appeared to have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system or landed in open areas, although a rocket hit an Israeli town near the Gaza border on Saturday morning, injuring one civilian slight, according to Israeli media reports. By midday, the sirens sounded as incoming rockets were fired farther north, in the Israeli port city of Ashdod.
A ceasefire does not appear imminent, despite early mediation efforts by international actors, including the United Nations. Ismail Haniyeh, head of the political bureau of Hamas, the main armed Islamist group in Gaza, said he spoke during the night with officials from Egypt and Qatar, as well as with the United Nations.
The battle began Friday afternoon when Israel launched air strikes it said were a preemptive attempt to thwart an imminent attack from Gaza by Islamic Jihad, after nearly a week of heightened tensions between Israel and the armed group.
Israel arrested one of the group’s top leaders this week in the West Bank, prompting threats of retaliation against its leadership in Gaza, ahead of an Israeli air strike on Friday that killed Taysir al-Jabari, a senior commander in Saraya al-Quds. Islamic Jihad Wing.
On Saturday morning, the Israeli military spokesman, Ran Kochav, told Israel Public Radio that the fighting would likely continue for at least a week and that there were no negotiations underway.
But during the night, the militants reduced the range of their rocket fire, targeting mostly areas close to Gaza rather than the cities farther north, which they initially targeted.
Analysts said the reassessment could prevent the situation from escalating further – as well as a decision by Hamas to remain on the sidelines of the fighting.
Islamic Jihad is a smaller second militia in Gaza that sometimes operates independently of Hamas, which does not always support the secondary group in its rocket wars with Israel, most notably in 2019.
Israeli officials said they were only targeting Islamic Jihad, after they said the latter was about to fire anti-tank missiles at Israeli targets on Friday afternoon.
To underscore this point, the Israeli military also announced that it had arrested 19 Islamic Jihad operatives in nighttime raids across the occupied West Bank.
Israel also closed public beaches along the coast north of Gaza, expecting more rockets there.