Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes in Gaza on Friday, killing at least 10 people, including a senior militant, and wounding dozens, according to Palestinian officials.
Israel said it was targeting the Islamic Jihad militant group in response to an “imminent threat” following the arrest of another senior militant in the occupied West Bank earlier this week.
Palestinian militants launched a barrage of rockets hours later as air raid sirens wailed in central and southern Israe. Islamic Jihad claimed to have fired 100 rockets.
Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the last 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.
A blast was heard in Gaza City, where smoke poured out of the seventh floor of a tall building on Friday afternoon. Video released by the military showed strikes blowing up three guard towers with suspected militants in them.
In a nationally televised speech Friday night, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country had launched the attacks based on “concrete threats.”
“This government has a zero tolerance policy for any attempted attacks – of any kind – from Gaza towards Israeli territory,” Lapid said. “Israel will not sit idly by when there are those who are trying to harm its civilians.”
He also added that “Israel isn’t interested in a broader conflict in Gaza, but will not shy away from one either.”
“We will stand strong against the enemy, together,” Prime Minister Lapid said in his televised address.
“I urge everyone to follow the instructions in the coming days. I trust the Israeli public and am sure that they will give a broad support to our security system. Whatever it takes, we will remove the threats from our citizens.*
Escalating violence is a political test for Lapid and Hamas
The escalating violence poses an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of elections in November in which he hopes to keep the position. He has experience in diplomacy, having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but his security credentials are thin.
Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new battle, barely a year after the last war caused widespread devastation. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman were among those killed and that another 55 people were wounded. It did not differentiate between civilians and militants. The Israeli military said early estimates were that around 15 fighters were killed.
Islamic Jihad said Taiseer al-Jabari, its commander for northern Gaza, was among those killed. He had succeeded another militant killed in an airstrike in 2019. Hundreds marched in a funeral procession for him and others who were killed, with many of the mourners waving Palestinian flags and Islamic Jihad banners as they called for revenge.
Iron Dome defence system intercepts missiles
Israeli media showed the skies above southern and central Israel lighting up with rockets and interceptors from Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. An explosion was heard in Tel Aviv.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many rockets were launched and there was no immediate word on any casualties on the Israeli side.
Israel continued to strike other targets Friday, including weapons production facilities and Islamic Jihad positions.
Following the initial Israeli strikes, a few hundred people gathered outside the morgue at Gaza City’s main Shifa hospital. Some entered to identify loved ones, only to emerge in tears. One shouted: “May God take revenge against spies,” referring to Palestinian informants who cooperate with Israel.
An Israeli military spokesman said it launched the strikes in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles. The spokesman, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said al-Jabari was deliberately targeted and had been responsible for “multiple attacks” on Israel.