Deadly attacks followed an exchange of fire between Israeli and Gaza militants.

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (APP) – Israeli jets bombed militant positions in Gaza on Saturday as rockets rained down on southern Israel, hours after a wave of Israeli airstrikes on the coastal enclave. At least 11 people were killed, including a senior militant and a 5-year-old girl.

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The fighting, which began Friday with Israel’s dramatic targeted killing of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander, continued overnight, bringing the sides closer to all-out war.

But the region’s Hamas rulers appear to be standing on the sidelines of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat under control for now. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes over the past 15 years, at a heavy cost to the region’s two million Palestinians.

Shortly before noon, Israeli warplanes intensified airstrikes on Gaza. After warning residents in phone calls, warplanes dropped two bombs on the home of an Islamic Jihad member, destroying a two-story structure in western Gaza City and severely damaging nearby homes. Women and children came out of the area.

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“Warned us? They warned us about the rockets and we escaped without taking anything. There were 15 people living in the house that was targeted,” he said.

Another airstrike hit an Islamic Jihad site nearby.

The latest round of Israel-Gaza violence began this week with the arrest of a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, part of a month-long Israeli military operation in the region. Citing a security threat, Israel then sealed off roads around the Gaza Strip and killed the militant leader in a targeted strike on Friday.

An explosion was heard in Gaza City where smoke was rising from the seventh floor of a tall building. Video released by the Israeli military showed three guard towers containing suspected militants being blown up in the attacks.

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In a nationally televised speech on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country carried out the attacks based on “concrete threats”.

“This government has a zero-tolerance policy for any attempted attacks from Gaza into Israeli territory,” Lapid said. “Israel will not sit idly by when there are people trying to harm its citizens.”

“Israel is not interested in a wider conflict in Gaza, but it will not back down from one.” he added.

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The violence is an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of elections in November, when he hopes to remain in office.

Lepid, a centrist former TV host and author, has diplomatic experience and served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has few security credentials. The conflict with Gaza could burnish and strengthen his position as he competes against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who has ruled the country during three of its four wars with Hamas. led by

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Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new war barely a year after the previous war caused widespread destruction. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal region remains mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50 percent.

The Palestinian health ministry said the dead in Gaza included a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman, without distinguishing between civilian and militant casualties. The Israeli army said an initial estimate was that around 15 fighters were killed. Dozens were injured.

Islamic Jihad said its commander for northern Gaza, Taysir al-Jabari, was among the dead. He replaced another militant killed in an airstrike in 2019. This triggered a fierce round of fighting between Israel and the militant group.

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An Israeli army spokesman said the strikes were carried out in response to a “simple threat” by two fighters armed with anti-tank missiles. The spokesman, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said Al-Jabari was deliberately targeted and was responsible for “multiple attacks” on Israel.

Hundreds of people marched in his funeral procession and those of others killed, many mourners waving Palestinian and Islamic Jihad flags and calling for revenge.

Israeli media showed the sky above southern and central Israel lit up by rockets and interceptors from Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. It was not immediately clear how many rockets were fired and there were no immediate reports of casualties from the Israeli side.

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Overnight, Israel attacked rocket launchers, rocket manufacturing sites and Islamic Jihad bases. The army said it also arrested 19 Islamic Jihad militants in the West Bank.

The UN special envoy for the region Tor Weinsland said: “The firing of rockets must stop immediately, and I call on all parties to avoid further escalation.”

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After the initial Israeli attacks, a few hundred people gathered outside the morgue at the main Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Some went inside to identify their loved ones and later came out crying.

“God take revenge on the spies,” shouted one, referring to Palestinian informants who cooperated with Israel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve troops if needed while the military declared a “state of emergency” on the home front, closing schools and communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the border. Activities were restricted.

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Israel closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it prepared for a revenge attack following the capture of Islamic Jihad leader Bassam al-Saadi in a military raid in the occupied West Bank on Monday. . A teenage member of the group was killed in an exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants.

Hamas seized power in the coastal strip from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Its most recent war with Israel was in May 2021. Tensions rose again after a wave of attacks inside Israel earlier this year, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions. A flashpoint at the Holy Place in Jerusalem. Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005.

“Palestinian resistance fighters must stand together to counter this aggression,” Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhlah told Iran’s Al-Mayadeen TV network. He said there would be “no red lines” and blamed Israel for the violence.

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“The Israeli enemy, which launched a war against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and take full responsibility,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares its ideology. Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out several deadly attacks over the years, including firing rockets into Israel. It is unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel blames Hamas for all attacks from Gaza.

Since the takeover by Hamas, Israel and Egypt have imposed a strict blockade of the area. Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas from increasing its military capabilities. Critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment.

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