Israel, militants exchange fire as Gaza death toll rises to 24

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Israeli airstrikes were flattened men in Gaza on Saturday and Palestinian rocket barrages on southern Israel persisted for a second day, raising fears of a further major escalation in the Middle East conflict. Gaza’s health ministry said 24 people had been killed so far in the coastal strip, including six children.

The fighting began with Israel’s killing of a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in a wave of strikes on Friday that Israel said were aimed at preventing an imminent attack.

A photo taken on August 5, 2022 shows Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza City in retaliation for previous Israeli airstrikes.

A photo taken on August 5, 2022 shows Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza City in retaliation for previous Israeli airstrikes.
(Mahmoud Hams/AFP via Getty Images)

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So far, Hamas, the largest militant group that rules Gaza, seemed to stay on the sidelines of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat contained. Israel and Hamas fought a war just a year ago, one of four major conflicts and several small battles in the past 15 years that have taken a heavy toll on the impoverished territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents .

Whether Hamas will continue to stay out of the fight likely depends in part on the degree of punishment Israel inflicts on Gaza as rocket fire continues steadily.

The Israeli army said a rocket fired by Palestinian militants killed civilians Saturday night, including children, in the northern Gaza town of Jabaliya. The army said it investigated the incident and concluded “without any doubt” that it was caused by a failure on the part of Islamic Jihad. There was no official Palestinian comment on the incident.

A Palestinian medical workerwho was not authorized to brief the media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the blast killed at least six people, including three children.

Earlier Saturday, Israeli warplanes struck four residential buildings in Gaza City, all locations apparently linked to Islamic Jihad. No casualties were reported. In each case, the Israeli army warned residents before the strikes.

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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 house of an Islamic Jihad operative. The blast flattened the two-story structure, leaving a large crater filled with rubble and severely damaging surrounding homes.

Women and children rushed out of the area.

“Warned us? They warned us with rockets and we fled without taking anything,” said Huda Shamalakh, who lived next door. She said 15 people lived in the targeted house.

Rockets are fired from Gaza City, Gaza following Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on August 06, 2022.

Rockets are fired from Gaza City, Gaza following Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on August 06, 2022.
(Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

from 24 Palestinians killed were six children and two wives, as well as the top commander of Islamic Jihad. Gaza’s health ministry said more than 200 people were injured. It does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. The Israeli army said on Friday that initial estimates indicated that around 15 fighters had been killed.

Gaza’s only power station shut down at noon on Saturday due to lack of fuel as Israel closed its crossings into Gaza on Tuesday. With the new disruption, Gazans can only get 4 hours of electricity a day, increasing their reliance on private generators and worsening the territory’s chronic electricity crisis amid peak summer heat.

Throughout the day, militants in Gaza regularly launched rockets into Israel. The Israeli military said on Saturday evening that nearly 450 rockets were fired, of which 350 hit Israel, but nearly all of them were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Two people were slightly injured by shrapnel.

A barrage of rockets was fired towards Tel Aviv, triggering sirens that sent residents to shelters, but the rockets were intercepted or fell overboard, the military said.

Sunday could be a critical day in the surge, as Jews mark Tisha B’av, a somber day of fasting that commemorates the destruction of biblical temples. Thousands of people are expected at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and Israeli media have reported that Israeli leaders are to allow lawmakers to visit a key hilltop holy site in the city that is a hotbed of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

On Friday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a televised address that “Israel is not interested in a wider conflict in Gaza, but it will not shy away from it either.”

The violence is an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of the November election as he hopes to retain his post.

Lapid, a centrist former TV host and author, has a diplomatic background having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has weak security credentials. A conflict with Gaza could elevate his position and give him a boost as he takes on former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country in three of his four wars with Hamas.

Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new battle barely a year after the last war caused widespread devastation. Since then, there has been almost no reconstruction and the remote coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%. Israel and Egypt have maintained a strict blockade on the territory since the Hamas takeover in 2007.

Egypt Saturday stepped up efforts to prevent the escalation, 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 as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Latest round of violence between Israel and Gaza stems from the arrest earlier this week of a senior official Leader of the Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, as part of a months-long Israeli military operation in the territory. A teenage Islamic Jihad member was also killed in a shootout.

Israel then closed roads around Gaza and sent reinforcements to the border, warning of retaliation. On Friday, he killed Islamic Jihad commander for northern Gaza, Taiseer al-Jabari, in a strike on a building in Gaza City.

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles.

Israel approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve troops if needed. Authorities closed schools and imposed limits on other activities in communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the border.

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Hamas seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew from the coastal strip. Its most recent war with Israel was in May 2021. Tensions soared again earlier this year following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a holy site in Jerusalem.

The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares his ideology. Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out dozens of deadly attacks over the years, including rocket fire into Israel.