Health officials in the Palestinian enclave report 12 deaths as a result of Israeli attacks on Islamic Jihad.
Israel bombed the Gaza Strip for the second day in what it called a “pre-emptive operation” against a Palestinian militant group, the worst escalation of violence since last year’s 11-day war.
On Friday, Israeli warplanes attacked several locations in the blockaded territory as part of a surprise operation named “Breaking Dawn,” which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed foiled alleged planned rocket attacks by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. While it acts independently at times, Islamic Jihad is allied with Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip.
On Saturday morning, as exchanges of fire continued and Israel appeared to broaden the operation, health officials in the Palestinian coastal enclave said 12 people had been killed by Israeli airstrikes, including an Islamic Jihad commander, Tayseer Jabari, and civilians including a five-year-old girl and a 22-year-old art student. An additional 80 people were injured.
People in Gaza are fearful of another round of fighting, which would be the fourth major conflict in Gaza since Hamas took control in 2007. A year later, Israel and Egypt closed the border, leaving the area’s 2 million residents facing unemployment, crumbling medical infrastructure, and a lack of electricity and clean water.
Hamas declared its support for Islamic Jihad and stated that it would respond to the strikes. “The resistance is united in this campaign and will have the last word,” the group said in a statement.
Egypt, which has traditionally served as a go-between for Israel and armed groups in Gaza, said it had been informed by Israel that Breaking Dawn would be a smaller-scale attack, but no negotiations had yet begun.
The violence this weekend follows days of unrest sparked by the arrest of Bassem al-Saadi, the top commander of Islamic Jihad in the occupied West Bank. Since mid-March, the IDF has conducted nearly nightly raids across the West Bank in response to a wave of Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli citizens.
While Islamic Jihad did not launch rockets in response to Saadi’s arrest, Israel has insisted all week that the group is out for revenge, closing the Erez crossing used by Palestinians in Gaza to enter Israel and closing roads and restricting civilian movement in Israel’s south as a precaution.
On Friday, Israeli tanks and armored vehicles were stationed along the border, following the military’s announcement on Thursday that it was beefing up its forces.
“Israel is not interested in a larger conflict in Gaza, but it will not rule it out,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a televised address on Friday.
The Gaza Strip has been relatively quiet since last May’s war, which killed 256 Palestinians and 14 Israelis.
A month later, Israel elected a coalition government that included members of an independent Arab-Israeli party opposed to escalation with the Palestinians for the first time. It also increased the number of work permits issued to Palestinians in Gaza in an effort to alleviate the strip’s crushing poverty.
The coalition came to an end in June. The caretaker prime minister, Yisrael Lapid, is preparing for elections on November 1 and is under pressure from Israel’s right wing to appear tough on terrorism.