The death toll from escalating violence in Gaza rose to 24 on Sunday, including six children, as Israel extended its bombardment of Palestinian militants who reacted with a barrage of rockets.
The updated tally by health authorities in the territory run by Hamas Islamists said six children have been killed since the start of the “Israeli aggression” on Friday, as well as 204 people injured.
But Israel said it had “irrefutable” evidence that a stray rocket from Islamic Jihad militants was responsible for the deaths of multiple children in Jabalia, northern Gaza, on Saturday.
It was not immediately clear how many children were killed in the Jabalia accident. An AFP photographer saw six corpses in a local hospital, including three minors.
The Israeli military has warned that its air and artillery campaign against Islamic Jihad could last a week, but Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Cairo is talking “around the clock” with both sides for alleviate violence.
Israel said it was necessary to launch a “prevention” operation against Islamic Jihad, as the group was planning an imminent attack after days of tensions along the border with Gaza.
Civilians have meanwhile taken refuge in air-raid shelters on the Israeli side, with AFP reporters hearing sirens warning of a fire arriving in the Tel Aviv area on Saturday night.
In Rafah, on the Gaza border with Egypt, women and children were trapped under rubble following an Israeli attack, the strip’s civil protection unit said.
Rescuers were excavating the site where a prominent Islamic Jihad commander, Khaled Mansour, was allegedly targeted by an Israeli attack on Saturday.
The gunfight shattered more than a year of relative calm around Gaza. sources: AAP / Mohammed Saber
There has been no specific confirmation of Mansour’s death, but the head of the Israeli Army’s Directorate of Operations, Oded Basiok, said in a statement that the entire “senior leadership of the military wing of Islamic Jihad in Gaza has been neutralized “.
Daily life in the strip came to a halt as the electricity distributor said the only power plant was closed due to lack of fuel after Israel closed its border crossings.
Gaza’s health ministry said the next few hours will be “crucial and difficult”, warning that it risks suspending vital services within 72 hours due to a lack of electricity.
‘We are all alone’
In Gaza City, resident Dounia Ismail said Palestinians have gotten used to packing a “survival bag” of items like money and medicine.
“This latest escalation brings back images of fear, anxiety and the feeling that we are all alone,” he told AFP.
Israel says the airstrikes launched on Friday on the Gaza Strip were a response to an “immediate threat” from Palestinian Islamic Jihad. sources: Getty / Getty Images / Getty Images
On the Israeli side of the border, the Magen David Adom Emergency Service said two people were hospitalized with shrapnel injuries and 13 others were slightly injured as they ran to safety.
In Kibbutz Nahal Oz, an Israeli community near the Gaza border, resident Nadav Peretz said he had been “in or around the bomb shelter” since Friday.
“We recognize that on the other side there is also an uninvolved civilian population, and on both sides the children deserve to enjoy the summer holidays,” said the 40-year-old.
A five-year-old girl was reportedly among the victims
Islamic Jihad is aligned with Hamas, but often acts independently. Both are blacklisted as terrorist organizations by much of the West.
Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since it took control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict last May.
A flare-up with Islamic Jihad came in 2019 following Israel’s killing of Baha Abu al-Ata, Jabari’s predecessor. Hamas did not join the fray in that conflict.
Hamas’s moves now could prove crucial, with the group coming under pressure from some to restore calm in order to improve economic conditions in Gaza.
UN humanitarian chief for the occupied Palestinian territories, Lynn Hastings, has urged warring parties to allow the delivery of “fuel, food and medical supplies” to Gaza amid the deepening crisis.
On Friday, the Gaza health ministry reported that “a five-year-old girl” was among the victims of the Israeli fire.
Palestinians attend the funeral of Alaa Qaddum, a five-year-old boy. Credit: SOPA / Sipa USA images
The girl, Alaa Kaddum, had a pink bow in her hair and a wound on her forehead, as her body had been carried by her father to his funeral.
The attacks in Gaza follow the arrest in the occupied West Bank of two senior members of Islamic Jihad, including Bassem al-Saadi, whom Israel accuses of orchestrating the recent attacks.
Israel on Saturday expanded its operation against Islamic Jihad, announcing the arrest of 19 people in the West Bank who were said to be members of the group.
Israel has been conducting a wave of often deadly raids on the West Bank since mid-March in response to lethal attacks on Israelis.