Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes in Gaza on Friday, killing at least 10 people, including a senior official, 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 high-ranking militant in the occupied West Bank earlier this week.
Palestinian militants launched a barrage of rockets hours later as air raid sirens sounded in central and southern Israel. Islamic Jihad claimed to have fired 100 rockets.
Israel and the militant Hamas leaders of Gaza have fought four wars and several small battles in the past 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.
An explosion was heard in Gaza City, where smoke billowed from 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 inside.
In a nationally televised address Friday night, 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.”
He also added that “Israel is not interested in a broader conflict in Gaza, but will not shy away from it 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 I am sure that they will give broad support to our security system. Regardless, we will eliminate threats of our citizens.*
Escalating violence is a political test for Lapid and Hamas
The escalating violence is an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of November elections in which he hopes to retain his post. He has experience in diplomacy, having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but his security credentials are slim.
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 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 the casualties and 55 other people were injured. He made no distinction between civilians and militants. The Israeli army said early estimates were that around 15 fighters had been killed.
Islamic Jihad said Taiseer al-Jabari, its commander for northern Gaza, was among those killed. He had taken over from another activist killed in an airstrike in 2019. Hundreds marched in a funeral procession for him and others killed, with many mourners waving Palestinian flags and Jihad banners Islamic as they called for revenge.
Iron Dome defense 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 was not immediately clear how many rockets had been launched and there was no immediate word on the casualties on the Israeli side.
Israel continued to strike other targets on Friday, including weapons production facilities and Islamic Jihad positions.
After the first Israeli strikes, a few hundred people gathered outside the morgue of the main Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Some walked in to identify loved ones, only to come out in tears. One of them shouted, “May God take revenge on the spies,” referring to Palestinian informants cooperating with Israel.
An Israeli military spokesman said they 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 was responsible for “multiple attacks” against Israel.