Israel yesterday hit Gaza with deadly airstrikes, and a Palestinian militant group retaliated with a barrage of rocket fire, in the territory’s worst escalation of violence since a war last year.
Israel has said it was forced to launch a “pre-emptive” operation against the Islamic Jihad group, as the group was planning an imminent attack following days of tensions along the Gaza border.
Health authorities in Gaza, a Palestinian enclave controlled by Hamas, said a five-year-old girl was among 12 people killed by the Israeli bombardment, while more than 80 were injured.
The Israeli military said it was “preparing for the operation to last a week,” while the sole power station in Gaza ground to a halt due to a lack of fuel after Israel closed border crossings.
Israel and Islamic Jihad separately confirmed the killing of Taysir al-Jabari, a key leader of the group, in a Friday strike on a building in the west of Gaza City.
Islamic Jihad is aligned with Hamas, but often acts independently.
It said the initial Israeli bombardment amounted to a “declaration of war” and unleashed a barrage of rockets toward Israel.
Sources within the group ruled out a ceasefire soon, with one saying: “For the movement the focus is on the battlefield.”
A military spokesman said that the army is “not currently holding ceasefire negotiations.”
The rocket fire and Israeli strikes were continuing yesterday, risking a repeat of an 11-day conflict in May last year that devastated Gaza and forced countless Israelis to rush to bomb shelters.
Daily life in the Palestinian enclave has come to a standstill, with streets largely deserted and most shops closed.
Israel’s closure on Tuesday of a key goods crossing resulted in Gaza’s power plant yesterday shutting down due to a “fuel shortage,” a spokesman for the enclave’s electricity distributor said.
Diesel for the plant is usually trucked in from Egypt or Israel.
“Israel isn’t interested in a wider conflict in Gaza, but will not shy away from one either,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a nationally televised address on Friday.
Air raid sirens yesterday sounded across southern Israel, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage.
Officials in border areas urged people to stay close to shelters, which have also been opened in Tel Aviv.
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