It’s a day of terror for most of Isreal and Gaza residents as Israeli airstrikes destroyed homes in Gaza on Saturday and rocket barrages continued in southern Israel, raising fears of an escalation in the conflict, which killed at least 15 people in the coastal strip.
The fighting began with the Israeli killing of a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group in a wave of attacks on Friday, which Israel said were meant to avert an imminent attack. A 5-year-old girl and two women were also among those killed in the attack.
Until now, Hamas, the major extremist group ruling Gaza, seemed to have remained on the edge of the conflict, keeping the intensity of the conflict somewhat under control. Israel and Hamas fought a war barely a year ago, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles in the past 15 years that have cost the poor region a staggering 2 million Palestinian residents.
On August 6, 2022, rockets are fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip in Gaza City.
Whether Hamas continues to stay out of the fight depends on how much punishment Israel delivers in Gaza as rocket fire continues.
On Saturday afternoon, Israeli warplanes intensified attacks on four residential buildings in Gaza City, all places linked to Islamic Jihad militants. The current exchange in the densely populated city has suffered the heaviest destruction so far, but there have been no reports of any casualties. In each case, the Israeli military warned residents before the attacks.
Another strike on Saturday hit a car, killing a 75-year-old woman and injuring six others.
In one attack, following warnings, fighter jets dropped two bombs on the home of an Islamic Jihad member. The explosion flattened the two-story structure, leaving a large crater filled with rubble, and badly damaged surrounding homes.
Women and children fled from the spot.
“Warned us? They warned us with rockets and we fled without taking anything,” said Huda Shamlakh, who lived next door. She said 15 people lived in the targeted house.
The lone power plant at the Gaza Ground came to a halt at noon on Saturday due to a fuel shortage as Israel closed its crossing point in Gaza from Tuesday. With the new disruption, Gazan can get electricity for only 4 hours a day, increasing their dependence on private generators and deepening the region’s chronic power crisis amid the scorching heat.
Throughout the day, Gaza militants regularly fired rockets into southern Israel, but there were no reports of casualties. Most of the barrage was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system, struck in empty areas, or fell low in Gaza. Rocket shrapnel damaged the roof of a house in the town of Sederot, but the family was in a shelter.
On Friday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a televised speech that “Israel is not interested in a wider conflict in Gaza, but will not back down from one.”
“This government has a zero-tolerance policy for any attack from Gaza to Israeli territory,” he said. “When there are people who are trying to harm their citizens, Israel will not sit idly by.”
The violence is an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of the election in November when he was expected to retain office.
Lapid, a centrist former TV host, and the author has experience in diplomacy, having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has thin security credentials. A conflict with Gaza could burn and boost his position as he faces off against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country during three of its four wars with Hamas.
Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to engage in a new battle, barely a year after the widespread devastation in the previous war. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal region is mired in poverty, with unemployment at around 50%. Israel and Egypt have imposed heavy blockades on the region since Hamas’ takeover in 2007.
Egypt on Saturday stepped up efforts to block talks with Israel, Palestine, and the United States to prevent Hamas from engaging in fighting, an Egyptian intelligence official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The Palestinian Health Ministry put the death toll at 15 and said more than 80 were injured. The ministry did not differentiate between civilians and terrorists. The Israeli military said initial estimates were that around 15 fighters were killed.