Palestinians inspect the rubble of a house after it was struck by an Israeli airstrike in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza Strip | Photo: AP
Gaza: Israeli fighter jets struck targets in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian militants fired rockets toward Jerusalem on Friday, further escalating the most violent flare-up in months despite efforts to broker a cease-fire.
An Israeli airstrike killed two Palestinians in an residential building in Gaza City in the afternoon, according to the Palestinian health ministry. The Israeli military said it targeted a senior commander of the Islamic Jihad movement. The militant group did not immediately offer comment.
The strike sparked a fire on the seventh floor of the apartment tower. Rescuers pulled two lifeless bodies from the rubble. Neighbors crowded around the damaged building after the bombing.
Earlier in the day, bursts of rocket fire from Gaza sent warning sirens wailing as far north as the contested capital of Jerusalem — about 48 miles (77 kilometers) from the Gaza border — breaking a 12-hour lull that had raised hopes regional powers could soon broker a truce.
The fighting, which started on Tuesday, between Israel and Islamic Jihad — the second-largest militant group in Gaza after the territory’s Hamas rulers — have killed 33 Palestinians in the strip, including women and children, and a 70-year-old man in central Israel.
A rocket slammed into an open field in the Israeli south Jerusalem settlement of Bat Ayin, said Josh Hasten, a spokesperson for the area. Dull thuds could be heard inside the city, home to major sites holy to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Residents in nearby Israeli settlements reported hearing explosions and seeing black smoke rising from the hills after an apparent missile interception.
“The bombing of Jerusalem sends a message,” Islamic Jihad said in a statement. “What is happening in Jerusalem is not separate from Gaza.”
In response, the Israeli military said its warplanes struck four Islamic Jihad military posts and a mortar shell launcher across the Gaza Strip. Residents reported the strikes hit targets in open areas.
The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was conducting a security assessment to mount a further response. “We continue,” he tweeted.
The Israeli military urged residents living within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the Gaza boundary to remain close to bomb shelters and limit public gatherings until Saturday evening.
Sirens near Jerusalem took some back to the spring of 2021, when Hamas fired rockets toward the city, which helped set off a bloody 11-day Gaza war. At that time, the militant group cited a provocative far-right march through the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem as one of the reasons for its rocket barrage, along with the displacement of Palestinians from the city's east.
Israeli police said they will allow the same Jewish ultranationalist parade — meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem — to take place next Thursday.
Since Tuesday, Israeli strikes have killed five senior Islamic Jihad figures and hit at least 215 targets in Gaza, including rocket and mortar launch sites and militants preparing to use them. Islamic Jihad has retaliated with nearly 900 rockets fired toward densely populated parts of Israel.
Israeli bombs and shells have destroyed 47 housing units, and damaged 19 so badly they were uninhabitable, leaving 165 Palestinians homeless, Gaza’s housing ministry reported. In addition, nearly 300 homes sustained some damage.
Palestinians on Friday surveyed the wreckage from the fighting.
“The dream that we built for our children, for our sons, has ended,” said Belal Bashir, a Palestinian living in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, whose family home was reduced to a heap of rubble in an airstrike late Thursday. He, his young daughters and two-week-old son would have been killed in the thundering explosion if they hadn’t ran outside when they heard shouting, he said.
“We were shocked that our house was targeted,” he added as he pulled his children’s dolls and blankets from a gaping bomb crater.
The Palestinian dead included six children and four women, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Two of the children were killed by suspected misfired Palestinian rockets, according to the Israeli military and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Over 90 Palestinians have been wounded.
The civilians deaths have drawn condemnation from the Arab world and concern from the United States and Europe. In its past four wars against Hamas, Israel has repeatedly faced accusations of war crimes due to the high civilian death tolls and its use of heavy weapons against the crowded enclave. Israel, in turn, contends that Palestinian militant groups use civilians as human shields by fighting in their midst.
The cycle of violence in Gaza has recurred at least 15 times since Hamas took power. The iteration of Israeli bombing campaigns has raised serious questions about what the deadly exchanges achieve, casting doubt on Netanyahu’s repeated claims of victory.
“If the operations were really all that successful, we wouldn’t need them once a year on average, with the time between them becoming shorter,” Amos Harel, the defense affairs commentator for the Haaretz newspaper, wrote in an analysis Friday. “The simple truth is that Israel has no concrete solution for the plight of Gaza or for the security dangers that emanate from the strip.”
Hamas, the de facto civilian government with an army of some 30,000 in Gaza, has sought to maintain its truce with Israel while attempting to keep abysmal living conditions in the blockaded enclave from spiraling since the devastating 2021 war that killed over 260 Palestinians. The group, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, has sat out this round of fighting — as it did a similar burst of violence last summer. In a sign of restraint, Israel has limited its airstrikes to Islamic Jihad targets.
Meanwhile Islamic Jihad figures have sent mixed signals about negotiations for a cease-fire that neighboring Egypt has pushed for. Senior official Ihsan Attaya complained early Friday that the mediators “have been unable to provide us with any guarantees.” A sticking point has been Islamic Jihad’s demands that Israel cease its policy of targeted killings, Attaya said.
This week's battles began when Israel launched, on Tuesday, simultaneous airstrikes that killed three Islamic Jihad commanders along with some of their wives and children as they slept in their homes. Israel said it was retaliating for a barrage of rocket fire launched last week by Islamic Jihad following the death of one of its West Bank members, Khader Adnan, from an 87-day hunger strike while in Israeli custody.
The airstrikes and rockets have shifted the focus of long-running conflict back to Gaza after months of surging violence in the occupied West Bank under Israel's most right-wing government in history.