TEL AVIV — Israeli warplanes pounded targets in Gaza as Palestinian militants launched rocket attacks for the second day in a row on Saturday, ending explosively more than a year of relative calm along the border.
The Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, said in a statement on Saturday that the airstrikes killed two members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group “who were about to fire mortars from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory.”
The statement added that the IDF “continues to strike terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip”, including a “military training complex and a weapons warehouse”.
Local media later broadcast images of huge clouds of smoke and debris appearing in the air as explosions rocked Gaza City.
In a separate statement, the IDF said that along with other Israeli security forces, it apprehended 20 suspects on Saturday, including 19 it described as “Islamic Jihad terrorists”.
After claiming responsibility for firing more than 100 rockets into Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities overnight, the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad group, said in a statement that they could “confirm the continuation of the fighting”.
Most of the missiles were intercepted and no serious casualties were reported, according to the Israel Ambulance Service.
In a separate statement, Daoud Shehab, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said “the current battle will not end in a day or two and will continue to wear down the occupying entity.” He also said that there are no talks between the two parties at present.
The latest round of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants was sparked by the capture this week of top Islamic Jihad commander Bassam al-Saadi in the West Bank.
The fighting began on Friday as Israel warned residents in phone calls before its fighter jets dropped two bombs on the home of an Islamic Jihad operative, flattening the two-story structure in the west of the city of Gaza and seriously damaging the surrounding houses.
The IDF said it targeted Taiseer al-Jabari, the commander-in-chief of Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s northern Gaza division. The Palestinian Health Ministry later confirmed that Jabari was among the dead.
In a separate statement on Saturday, the ministry said 14 Palestinians, including a child, had died and at least 110 people had been injured since the violence began.
Islamic Jihad is an Iranian-backed group that is smaller than Hamas, which rules Gaza, but shares many of its key grievances and ideologies, including a refusal to recognize the existence of the state. Israel.
So far, Hamas has appeared to remain on the sidelines of the conflict, but Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement Friday that Israel “has begun the escalation against Gaza and has committed a new crime, and must pay the price and take full responsibility for it.”
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several small battles over the past 15 years, sparking violence that has disproportionately affected the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents, who often cannot shelter from Israeli strikes.
Barhoum’s comments came after Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country launched the attacks based on “concrete threats.”
“This government has a policy of zero tolerance for any attempted attack – of any kind – from Gaza into Israeli territory,” Lapid said. “Israel will not sit idly by when there are those who try to harm its civilians.”
“Israel is not interested in a broader conflict in Gaza but will not shy away from it either.” he added.
The violence is an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister in June after the collapse of the eight-party coalition of his predecessor, Naftali Bennett.
Citing a security threat, Israel also sealed roads around the Gaza Strip and blocked the Nusseirat power station, which supplies electricity to the 2.3 million people who live in the coastal enclave.
It has also imposed special security measures in its southern territories near Gaza and is preparing to call up 25,000 troops, according to Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a strict blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007. Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities.
Critics, including the United Nations, say the policy amounts to collective punishment of an entire population and deprives Palestinian civilians living in the area of freedom of movement.
Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv and Leila Sackur from London.
Associated press and Reuters contributed.