Israel strikes Gaza, rockets fired after Islamic Jihad chief killed

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Israel strikes Gaza, rockets fired after Islamic Jihad chief killed

GAZA: Israeli aircraft struck in Gaza and Palestinians fired rockets at Israel on Saturday after an Israeli operation against the Islamic Jihad militant group ended more than a year of relative calm along the border.

Israel killed one of the group's senior commanders in a surprise daytime air strike on a high-rise building in Gaza City, which drew rocket salvoes in response.

On Saturday, Israel said it struck Islamic Jihad militants preparing to launch rockets. Witnesses said more than three houses were targeted, flattening at least one as the sounds of more explosions rocked Gaza City.

Palestinian militants fired 160 rockets across the border, setting off air raid sirens and sending people running to bomb shelters as far as the central Israeli city of Modiin, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

According to the Israeli ambulance service, most of the missiles were intercepted and there were no reports of serious casualties.

Egyptian, UN and Qatari efforts to end the fighting were underway. The escalation would depend on whether Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, would join the fighting.

The Israelis killed 12 Palestinians, including at least four more Islamic Jihad militants and a child, and wounded at least 84 people, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Islamic Jihad did not provide specific details about how many of its members had been killed and signalled no immediate ceasefire. The time is now for resistance, not a truce, a group official told Reuters.

Overnight, the Israeli military said it had apprehended 19 Islamic Jihad militants in raids in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and targeted the group's rocket manufacturing sites and launchers in Gaza.

The enclave has around 2.3 million Palestinians packed into the narrow coastal Gaza Strip, with Israel and Egypt restricting movement of people and goods in and out of the enclave and imposing a naval blockade, citing security concerns.

Israel stopped the planned transport of fuel into Gaza shortly before it struck on Friday, crippling the territory's lone power plant and reducing electricity to around 8 hours per day.

The frontier had been quiet since May 2021, when 11 days of fierce fighting between Israel and militants left at least 250 dead in Gaza and 13 in Israel.

The UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland said he was deeply concerned about the violence and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority condemned Israel's attacks.

Gaza streets were largely deserted and shops were closed early on Saturday. The site where top Islamic Jihad commander Tayseer al-Jaabari was killed, rubble, glass and furniture were strewn along the street.

A neighbour, Mariam Abu Ghanima, 56, said the Israeli military did not issue a warning before the attack, as it has done in previous rounds of violence.

A military spokesman said the force had made efforts to avoid civilian casualties in the surprise attack, which had used precision means to target a specific floor of the building.

Israel has imposed special security measures in its southern territories near Gaza and is preparing to call up some 25,000 military personnel, according to Army Radio.

Tensions rose this week after Israeli forces arrested an Islamic Jihad commander in the West Bank, drawing threats of retaliation from the group.

Israel's prime minister Yair Lapid said Friday's strikes thwarted an immediate and concrete attack by Islamic Jihad, which is backed by Iran and designated by the West as a terrorist organisation.

The military operation gave Lapid an opportunity to bolster his security credentials ahead of a Nov 1 election, according to some Israeli political analysts.