After two days of “pre-emptive” Israeli airstrikes against a Palestinian militant group, people in the Gaza Strip were getting ready for a new round of war on Saturday.
Friday, Israeli warplanes hit several places in the blockaded territory. This was part of a surprise operation called “Breaking Dawn,” which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said stopped rocket attacks that Palestinian Islamic Jihad was supposed to have planned.
After the militants fired back, Israel said on Saturday that its bombing campaign could go on for a week. This is the worst rise in violence since the 11-day conflict in May.
As fighting continued and Israel seemed to be expanding the operation on Saturday, health officials in the Palestinian coastal enclave said that 15 people had been killed by Israeli bombing. This included the Islamic Jihad commander for north Gaza, Tayseer Jabari, as well as civilians like a five-year-old girl and a 22-year-old art student. More than 80 people were hurt even more.
The Iran-backed Islamic Jihad sometimes acts on its own, but it is also linked to Hamas, the larger Islamist movement that runs the strip. Both groups are seen as terrorist groups by most of the rest of the world.
Whether the latest fight between Israel and Islamic Jihad will turn into a full-scale war depends a lot on whether Hamas, which is still recovering from the war last year, decides to step in.
The group has said that it backs Islamic Jihad and will also respond to the attacks. Hamas officials said in a statement, “The resistance, with all its arms and military groups, is united in this campaign and will have the last word.”
Islamic Jihad said that the first Israeli attack was a “declaration of war,” and on Friday night, it fired at least 100 rockets into southern Israel.
Many rockets were stopped by the Iron Dome air defense system, so there were no immediate reports of deaths or major damage. However, 13 people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
On Saturday, air raid sirens kept going off in Tel Aviv and other cities and towns in the south of Israel.
People in Gaza are afraid that this could lead to the fifth full-scale war in the strip since Hamas took control in 2007. Shortly after that, Israel and Egypt closed the enclave’s borders, leaving the area’s 2 million residents to deal with unemployment, crumbling medical infrastructure, and a lack of electricity and clean water for the last 15 years.
On Saturday, a lot of people lined up in front of bakeries and grocery stores. At noon, the only power station shut down because the local energy authority couldn’t get fuel to it.
Hamed al-Hindi, who is 33 years old, waited in downtown Gaza City for more than an hour to buy bread for his family and his elderly parents. He said, “I don’t know how long this will go on and how bad it will get.”
“We couldn’t sleep last night because we kept hearing explosions. I took my three kids to my room to keep them from getting upset.”
Lamia al-Bakri, who was leaving a store with several plastic bags, said, “Everything happened quickly and without warning.
“My daughter, who is 10 years old, kept asking me, ‘Could we move to Egypt and live there? I’m afraid of war and don’t want to see it happen. I don’t want to see any of us hurt.’
The 41-year-old man said, “I don’t know why these kids have to suffer for so long.”
On Saturday afternoon, the IDF said that Islamic Jihad activity was linked to four homes that were hit by the most powerful strikes yet. In each case, the Israeli military warned local people ahead of time, and no one was hurt.
On Saturday, another strike hit a car and killed a 75-year-old woman, and hurt six other people. Israel said that most of the other strikes hit rural areas where rocket launchers and training camps were.
Egypt, which often acts as a mediator between Israel and armed groups in Gaza, said that Israel had told it that Breaking Dawn would be a small-scale attack, but so far, efforts to set up a ceasefire haven’t worked.
Tensions have been high for a few days because of the arrest of Bassem al-Saadi, the top commander of Islamic Jihad in the occupied West Bank. Since the middle of March, when Israelis were attacked by Palestinian terrorists, the IDF has been raiding the West Bank almost every night.
Even though Islamic Jihad didn’t fire any rockets after Saadi was arrested, Israel has said all week that the group is out for revenge and that two units with anti-tank missiles pose a serious threat.
Since Tuesday, Israel has closed the Erez crossing, which Palestinians in Gaza used to cross into Israel. As a safety measure, Israel has also shut down roads and limited the movement of civilians in the south.
Israeli tanks and armour were lined up along the border on Friday, after the military said it was sending more troops and the defence minister, Benny Gantz, gave permission to call up 25,000 reservists if needed.
In a televised speech on Friday, the Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid, said, “Israel doesn’t want a bigger war in Gaza, but it won’t avoid one, either.” “Israel won’t do nothing when people are trying to hurt its civilians,” he said.
Since the war in May of last year, which killed 256 people in Gaza and 14 in Israel, things have been pretty quiet in the Gaza Strip.
A month later, Israel chose a coalition government that included, for the first time, members of an independent Arab-Israeli party. This was done to avoid making things worse with the Palestinians. It also made it easier for Palestinians from Gaza to work in Israel by giving them more work permits. This was done to help ease the terrible poverty in Gaza.
In June, the short-lived coalition fell apart. The caretaker prime minister, Lapid, is a moderate who is getting ready for elections on November 1. The right wing of Israel wants him to show that he is tough on terrorism.