December 7, 2022

TEL AVIV – Israeli fighter jets bombed targets in Gaza as Palestinian militants launched rocket attacks for a second day in a row on Saturday, bringing the relative calm of more than a year along the border to an explosive end.

The Israeli army said, in a statement on Saturday, that the airstrikes had killed activists of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement “who were about to launch mortar shells from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory.”

The statement added that the Israeli army “continues to bombard terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip,” including a “military training complex and a weapons depot.”

Local media later broadcast pictures of huge clouds of smoke and debris appearing in the air as explosions occurred in Gaza City.

People rush to take cover during the Israeli air strikes on Gaza City
Citizens run for cover during the Israeli air strikes on Gaza City on Saturday.Anas Baba/AFP via Getty Images

In a separate statement, the Israeli military said it, along with other Israeli security forces, arrested 20 suspects on Saturday, 19 of whom it described as “Islamic Jihad activists.”

And the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement, had announced earlier last night its responsibility for firing more than 100 missiles at Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities, and said in a statement that it might “confirm the continuation of the fighting.”

The Israeli ambulance service said that most of the missiles were intercepted, and no serious injuries were reported.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab said, in a separate statement, that “the current battle will not end in a day or two, and it will continue to drain the occupation entity.” He also said that there are no talks between the two sides at present.

The latest round of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants erupted after the capture this week of senior Islamic Jihad leader Bassam al-Saadi in the West Bank.

The fighting began on Friday as Israel warned residents in phone calls before its fighter jets dropped two bombs on the home of an Islamic Jihad member, destroying the two-storey building in western Gaza City and severely damaging surrounding homes.

The Israeli military said it targeted Taysir al-Jabari, a senior officer in the North Gaza Division of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Palestinian Ministry of Health later confirmed that Jabari was among the dead.

In a separate statement Saturday, the ministry said 14 Palestinians, including a child, had been killed, and at least 110 people had been injured since the violence began.

A paramedic warns people at the site of an Israeli air strike on Gaza City
A paramedic warns people at the site of an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Saturday.Mohamed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

Islamic Jihad is an Iranian-backed group smaller than the Hamas that rules Gaza, but it shares many of its main demands and ideologies, including a refusal to recognize the existence of the state of Israel.

So far, Hamas appears to have remained on the sidelines of the conflict, but Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the movement, said in a statement on Friday that Israel “began the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, and it must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it.”

Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and many small battles over the past 15 years, leading to outbreaks of violence that have disproportionately affected the region’s two million Palestinians, who often cannot shelter from Israeli strikes.

Barhoum’s comments came after Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country launched the attacks based on “concrete threats.”

“This government has a zero-tolerance policy for any attempt to launch attacks – of any kind – from Gaza into Israeli territory,” Lapid said. “Israel will not stand idly by when someone is trying to harm civilians.”

“Israel is not interested in a broader conflict in Gaza but it will not give up on one either.” he added.

The violence is an early test for Lapid, who took over as interim prime minister in June after the eight-party coalition of his predecessor, Naftali Bennett, collapsed.

Claiming a security threat, Israel also closed roads around the Gaza Strip and closed the Nuseirat power station, which provides electricity to the 2.3 million people living in the coastal enclave.

It has also imposed special security measures in its southern regions near Gaza and is preparing to call up 25,000 military personnel, according to Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Israel and Egypt have imposed a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007. Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities.

Critics, including the United Nations, say the policy amounts to collective punishment of an entire population, and deprives Palestinian civilians living in the area of ​​freedom of movement.

Paul Goldman reports in Tel Aviv and Laila Sakore in London.

News agency And the Reuters Contributed.

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