Gaza militants fire rockets at Israel after airstrikes kill 12 people

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JERUSALEM – Israeli forces and militants in Gaza continued to exchange air and rocket attacks on Saturday after Israeli airstrikes killed 13 inside the enclave since Friday, including the leader of the Islamic Jihad Brigade, and wounded more than 114 others. There was no sign of an end to the fighting, and the Israeli military said it had prepared for its operations to last at least a week.

Militants fired more than 200 rockets into Israel in response overnight, according to the Israeli military, a barrage that continued into Saturday afternoon.

Emergency responders reported no casualties from the rocket fire as thousands of residents of southern and central Israel took shelter in safe rooms or public air raid bunkers. Two civilians were reported to have suffered minor injuries as they ran for cover, and two Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers suffered minor shrapnel wounds, officials said. Multiple bush fires were reported in areas where rockets fell.

The Israel Defense Forces reported that its Iron Dome air defense network intercepted about 95 percent of the rockets. There are no reports of significant material damage. Officials said 36 of the launches failed in Gaza.

IS continued to carry out airstrikes in Gaza targeting rocket production, storage and launch sites. The attacks killed one person in the Hanyounis area early Saturday, according to the Palestinian health ministry, the first death since the initial IS strikes killed 10, including a five-year-old girl.

Military officials said they launched a pre-emptive strike after detecting signs that Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) was moving equipment into place for an “imminent” attack on Israeli civilians in communities near Gaza. Tensions between the countries have been rising since Israel arrested a PIJ leader in the West Bank on Tuesday.

The initial strike on Friday killed Taysir al-Jabari, a top Islamic Jihad leader, when a rocket destroyed part of the Palestine Tower apartment building.

“Suddenly, without warning, there was a big explosion and the window glass started flying,” said Iman Abu Ghanima, 51, who lives in a building next to the blast site. She and her family of six, including a pregnant daughter-in-law, fled the scene and slept with relatives. It was the second time their apartment had been damaged by Israeli airstrikes — their apartment was also damaged during the 2014 war, she said.

Israel also stepped up its overnight arrests of suspected PIJ agents outside Gaza. The IDF said forces arrested 20 men after raids near Hebron, Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank.

There are no signs that Hamas, the rival armed group that rules Gaza, was involved in the attacks on Israel, although the group has released statements condemning Israel’s airstrikes.

Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of Hamas, said Israel bears full responsibility for the current fighting and, speaking to Egyptian mediators, he demanded an immediate halt to IS strikes.

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Hamas, which maintains its own stockpile of weapons and has fought numerous wars with Israel, has not always joined the PIJ’s battles. The group stayed for several days exchange between PIJ and Israel in 2019 after Israel killed another senior PIJ commander. His actions now could be crucial in determining whether the current battles escalate further. Diplomats from the United Nations and Egypt said they were working to calm tensions before that happened. A delegation from Cairo was expected to arrive in Gaza on Saturday, according to media reports.

“The most important thing is whether or not Hamas will intervene,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, a former head of Israeli military intelligence. “Right now, I think they’re sitting on it. They certainly offer moral support to Islamic Jihad, but they do not imply that they are joining. The situation is very fragile.”

Israeli authorities hope that the right conditions are in place for a relatively quick end to the violence. In the year since Israel and Hamas fought an 11-day war that killed more than 250 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel, 14,000 Gazans have received work permits in Israel, a source of vital cash in the enclave that dried up after Israel closed the borders amid tensions earlier this week. The recovery, financed mostly by external donors, has begun to gain momentum in recent months.

At the military level, analysts say Hamas has not had time to fully replenish the supply of rockets it fired in the last war, a possible disincentive to engage in another major battle now. But opinion within the organization is known to be divided, with some officials outside the enclave more eager for escalation.

For civilians, the situation in Gaza is deteriorating rapidly. Authorities shut down the enclaves’ only power plant, which was already running at limited capacity, on Saturday due to a lack of fuel to run generators. There were lines to buy groceries even as sporadic IDF strikes landed elsewhere in the enclave of 2 million people. No inventory has passed through Israel since Tuesday.

Mahmoud Jaber, 23, had been queuing outside a bakery in Gaza City for half an hour and had another hour to wait before he could shop for the 13 people, including seven children, who live in his house.

“We don’t know how long the war will last,” he said.

Many families said they had spent a sleepless night between the airstrikes in Gaza and the even more frequent explosions of interceptor missiles in the surrounding skies.

“There is no safe place in Gaza,” Amar Mansour said as he waited his turn to buy bread on Saturday, something he knows to do every time fighting breaks out again. “No hope, no future. I’m 21 years old and I’ve lived through four wars.”

Some mourned the dead, including the family of Alaa Kadum, the five-year-old child killed by shrapnel or debris on Mansoura Street.

“What was she guilty of, this little girl,” her grandfather Riyad Kadum said in a tearful video posted on YouTube. “She was getting ready to start kindergarten… What was her fault?

Balusha reported from Gaza.

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