The worst escalation of violence in Gaza in a year after the killing of a prominent activist

Israel pounded Gaza with airstrikes on Saturday and a Palestinian militant group retaliated with a barrage of rocket fire, in the territory’s worst escalation of violence since a war last year.
Health authorities in the Hamas-controlled enclave said 10 people had been killed by Israeli shelling, including a five-year-old girl, and 79 others injured. The Israeli army estimated that its operation killed 15 militants.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid says the Jewish state was forced to launch a ‘pre-emptive anti-terror operation against an immediate threat’ posed by the Islamic Jihad group, after days of tensions along the Gaza border .
Israel and Islamic Jihad have both confirmed the killing of a senior leader of the militant group, Taysir al-Jabari, in a Friday strike on a building west of Gaza City.
Islamic Jihad said the first Israeli bombardment amounted to a “declaration of war”, before unleashing a flurry of more than 100 rockets towards Israel.
Israeli rocket fire and strikes continued overnight, risking a repeat of an 11-day conflict in May 2021 that devastated Gaza and forced countless Israelis to rush to bomb shelters.
“Israel is not interested in a broader conflict in Gaza, but it will not shy away from it either,” Lapid said in a nationally televised address.
Air raid sirens sounded overnight in several locations in southern and central Israel, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.
Border area officials have urged people to stay close to shelters, which have also been opened in the commercial capital of Tel Aviv.
The military initially confirmed at least 70 rocket launches from Gaza, saying 11 fell inside the Strip, with dozens intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, and others landed in cleared areas.
Warnings of Israeli airstrikes and strikes had at least temporarily subsided by 4:30 a.m. (01:30 GMT).

Egypt, a historic intermediary between Israel and armed groups in Gaza, was seeking to mediate and could host an Islamic Jihad delegation later Saturday, Egyptian officials in Gaza told AFP.

Five-year-old girl among victims, Gaza health ministry says

Flames erupted from a building in Gaza City after the first round of strikes, while injured Palestinians were evacuated by medics.
Gaza’s health ministry reported that “a five-year-old girl, targeted by the Israeli occupation” was among nine people killed.

Five-year-old 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.

Palestinians attend the funeral of five-year-old Alaa Qaddum, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike along with other Palestinians.

Palestinians attend the funeral of five-year-old Alaa Qaddum, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike along with other Palestinians. Credit: SOPA Images/Sipa United States

Hundreds of mourners gathered in Gaza City for the funeral of Jabari and others killed in the airstrikes.

Israeli army spokesman Richard Hecht said “we assume around 15 people were killed in action” in Gaza, referring to Palestinian fighters.

Israeli tanks were lined up along the border and the army said on Thursday it was reinforcing its troops.

A history of conflict

Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since it took control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict last May. Islamic Jihad is a separate group, aligned with Hamas, but also acting independently.
A flare-up with Islamic Jihad came in 2019, following Israel’s killing of Baha Abu al-Ata, Jabari’s predecessor.
The sides exchanged fire for several days without Hamas joining the fray.
Hamas’ actions amid the current violence could prove crucial in determining its severity, with the group facing pressure from some to maintain calm in order to improve economic conditions in the territory.
Gaza City resident Abdullah al-Arayshi said the situation was “very tense”. “The country is devastated. We are tired of wars. Our generation has lost its future,” he told AFP.
Hamas said Israel had “committed a new crime for which it must pay the price”.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are considered terrorist organizations by much of the West.

UN peace envoy ‘deeply concerned’

UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland said he was “deeply concerned”, warning that the escalation was “very dangerous”.
The strikes come four days after Israel closed its two border crossings with Gaza and restricted the movement of Israeli civilians living near the border, citing security concerns.
The moves followed 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 has carried out a wave of raids inside the West Bank since mid-March in response to deadly attacks on Israeli citizens.
Islamic Jihad did not launch rockets after Saadi’s arrest, but Israel has insisted throughout the week that the group was determined to seek revenge.

Palestinians, including patients and Israeli work permit holders, have been prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip since Tuesday, while the crossing for goods has also been closed.