The death toll from growing violence in Gaza rose to 24 on Sunday, including six children, as Israel continued its bombardment of Palestinian militants who retaliated with a barrage of rockets.
The count updated by the health authorities of the territory controlled by the Islamists of Hamas indicates that six children were among those killed since the beginning of the “Israeli aggression” on Friday, in addition to 204 people injured.
But Israel said it had “irrefutable” evidence that a stray rocket from Islamic Jihad militants was responsible for the deaths of several children in Jabalia, northern Gaza, on Saturday.
It is not immediately known how many children were killed in the Jabalia incident. An AFP photographer saw six bodies in a local hospital, including three minors.
The Israeli military has warned that its air and artillery campaign against Islamic Jihad could last a week, but Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Cairo was talking “around the clock” with both sides to mitigate. violence.
Israel said it was necessary to launch a “pre-emptive” operation against Islamic Jihad as the group planned an imminent attack after days of tension along the border with Gaza.
Meanwhile, civilians took refuge in air-raid shelters on the Israeli side, as AFP reporters heard sirens warning of an impending gunfire in the Tel Aviv area on Saturday night.
In Rafah, on Gaza’s border with Egypt, women and children were trapped under rubble following an Israeli strike, the strip’s civil defense unit said.
Rescuers were digging at the site where a senior Islamic Jihad commander, Khaled Mansour, was allegedly targeted by an Israeli strike on Saturday.
The exchange of fire shattered more than a year of relative calm around Gaza. Source: AAP / Mohammad Saber
There has been no specific confirmation of Mansour’s death, but IDF chief of operations Oded Basiok said in a statement that “the entire senior leadership of the Islamic Jihad’s military wing in Gaza has been neutralized”.
Daily life in the strip has come to a standstill, while the electricity utility said the only power plant was closed due to a lack of fuel after Israel closed its border crossings.
Gaza’s health ministry said the next few hours would be “crucial and difficult”, warning it risked suspending vital services within 72 hours due to lack of electricity.
‘We are all alone’
In Gaza City, resident Dounia Ismail said Palestinians have become accustomed to packing a “survival bag” containing items such as money and medicine.
“This latest escalation brings back images of fear, anxiety and the feeling that we are all alone,” she told AFP.
Israel says the airstrikes it launched on the Gaza Strip on Friday were in response to an “immediate threat” from Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Source: Getty / Getty Images/Getty Images
On the Israeli side of the border, the Magen David Adom emergency service said two people were hospitalized with shrapnel wounds and 13 others suffered minor injuries as they ran to get to shelter.
In Kibbutz Nahal Oz, an Israeli community near the Gaza border, resident Nadav Peretz said he had been “in or around the bomb shelter” since Friday.
“We recognize that on the other side too there is an uninvolved civilian population, and on both sides the children deserve to enjoy their summer holidays,” said the 40-year-old.
A five-year-old girl is believed to be among the victims
Islamic Jihad is aligned with Hamas, but often acts independently. Both are blacklisted as terrorist organizations by much of the West.
Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since it took control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict last May.
A flare-up with Islamic Jihad came in 2019, following Israel’s killing of Baha Abu al-Ata, Jabari’s predecessor. Hamas has not joined the fray in this conflict.
Hamas’ actions could now prove crucial, as the group faces pressure from some to restore calm in order to improve economic conditions in Gaza.
The UN humanitarian chief for the occupied Palestinian territories, Lynn Hastings, has urged warring parties to allow the delivery of “fuel, food and medical supplies” to Gaza amid the worsening crisis.
On Friday, Gaza’s health ministry reported that “a five-year-old girl” was among those killed by Israeli fire.
Palestinians attend the funeral of five-year-old Alaa Qaddum. Credit: SOPA Images/Sipa United States
The young girl, Alaa Kaddum, had a pink bow in her hair and a wound on her forehead, as her body was carried by her father at his funeral.
The strikes in Gaza follow the arrest in the occupied West Bank of two senior Islamic Jihad operatives, including Bassem al-Saadi, whom Israel accuses of orchestrating the recent attacks.
Israel expanded its operation against Islamic Jihad on Saturday, announcing the arrest of 19 people in the West Bank it said belonged to the group.
Israel has carried out a wave of often deadly raids in the West Bank since mid-March in response to deadly attacks on Israelis.