TEL AVIV – Israeli fighter jets fired on targets in Gaza as Palestinian militants launched rocket attacks for the second day in a row on Saturday, bringing more than a year of relative calm along the border to an explosive end.
The Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, said in a statement on Saturday that the airstrikes had killed two operatives 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 continued to attack “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 sky as explosions shook Gaza City.
In a separate statement, the IDF said it, along with other Israeli security forces, had arrested 20 suspects on Saturday, describing 19 of them as “Islamic Jihad terrorists.”
After previously 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 continuation of the fighting”.
Most of the missiles were intercepted and there were no reports of serious casualties, the Israeli ambulance service said.
In a separate statement, Daoud Shehab, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said the “current struggle will not end in a day or two and will continue to exhaust the occupation unit”. He also said there are no talks between the two sides at this time.
The latest round of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants was sparked by the arrest this week of senior Islamic Jihad commander Bassam al-Saadi in the West Bank.
The fighting began on Friday when Israel warned residents in phone calls before its fighter jets dropped two bombs on the home of an Islamic Jihad member, smashing the two-story building in western Gaza City and severely damaging surrounding homes. touched.
The IDF said it had attacked Taiser al-Jabari, the top commander of the northern Gaza division of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Palestinian Health Ministry later confirmed that Jabari was among the dead.
In a separate statement on Saturday, the ministry said 14 Palestinians, including one child, had been killed and at least 110 people had been injured since the violence began.
Islamic Jihad is an Iran-backed group smaller than Hamas that rules Gaza, but it shares many of its core demands and ideologies, including a refusal to recognize the existence of the State of Israel.
So far, Hamas appears to have remained on the sidelines of the conflict, but Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement on Friday that Israel “started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, and the price and bear it.” take full responsibility for it.”
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several minor battles over the past 15 years, leading to violence that has disproportionately affected the area’s 2 million Palestinian residents, who often cannot shelter from Israeli attacks.
Barhoum’s comments came after Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country launched the attacks based on “concrete threats.
“This government has a zero-tolerance policy for any attempted attacks – of any kind – from Gaza into Israeli territory,” Lapid said. “Israel will not stand idly by when people try to harm its citizens.”
“Israel is not interested in a wider conflict in Gaza, but will not shy away from it.” he added.
The violence is an early test for Lapid, who took on the role of interim prime minister in June after the eight-party coalition of his predecessor, Naftali Bennett, collapsed.
Citing a security threat, Israel has also closed roads around the Gaza Strip and blocked the Nusseirat power plant, which supplies electricity to the 2.3 million people living in the coastal enclave.
It has also imposed special security measures in its southern areas near Gaza and is preparing to call in 25,000 troops, Defense Secretary Benny Gantz said.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over the Gaza Strip since 2007. Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent Hamas from building its military capabilities.
Critics, including the United Nations, say the policy amounts to collective punishment of an entire population, depriving Palestinian citizens living in the area of freedom of movement.
Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv and Leila Sackur from London.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed.