Israel and Palestinian militants unleashed salvos of fire for a fifth day on Saturday, with the Islamic Jihad militant group launching dozens more rockets and the Israeli military pounding targets inside the Gaza Strip.
There were no immediate reports of casualties in Gaza or Israel on Saturday. But in a reminder of the combustible situation in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military raided the Balata refugee camp near the northern city of Nablus, sparking a firefight that killed two Palestinians.
The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the two as 32-year-old Said Mesha and 19-year-old Adnan Araj. At least three other Palestinians were wounded in the raid, the latest of near-daily Israeli arrest operations against suspected militants in the territory.
Meanwhile, hopes for an imminent cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad were fading as the Israeli military Saturday bombed an apartment belonging to Islamic Jihad commander Mohammed Abu Al Atta, among other targets including rocket launchers, it said.
Islamic Jihad militants fired a barrage of rockets toward southern Israel, where tens of thousands of Israelis were instructed to remain close to safe rooms and bomb shelters. Hundreds of residents near the border were evacuated to hotels farther north. Missile shrapnel that slammed into Shokeda, an agricultural community in the south, severely wounded two shepherds in their 40s and moderately wounded another, Israeli medics said.
Islamic Jihad promised a further onslaught. “As assassinations and the bombing of apartments and safe houses continue, the Palestinian resistance will renew its rocket fire ... to emphasize the continuation of the confrontation,” the group said.
Israeli officials told media that Egyptian-led efforts to broker a cease-fire were still underway but that Israel has ruled out the conditions presented by Islamic Jihad in the talks. Israel has said only that quiet will be answered with quiet, while Islamic Jihad has been reportedly pressing Israel to agree to halt targeted assassinations, among other demands. If the rocket fire continues from Gaza, Israeli officials told local media, “the strikes (on Gaza) will continue and intensify.”
Dozens of Palestinians dead after Israeli airstrikes continueMay 13, 202301:42
The hostilities erupted on Tuesday when Israel targeted and killed three senior Islamic Jihad commanders who it said were responsible for firing rockets toward the country last week. At least 10 civilians, including women, young children and uninvolved neighbors were killed in those initial strikes, which drew regional condemnation.
Over the past few days, Israel has conducted more airstrikes, killing other senior Islamic Jihad commanders and destroying their command centers and rocket-launching sites. On Friday, Israel killed Iyad al-Hassani, an Islamic Jihad commander who had replaced a leader of the group’s military operations killed in a Tuesday airstrike.
The Palestinian Health Ministry has reported 33 Palestinians killed — six of them children — and over 147 wounded.
On Saturday, Palestinians ventured out to assess the damage wrought by Israeli warplanes and salvage whatever they could. One man carefully pulled documents out from under the rubble. Another carried away a mattress.
Four homes in densely populated residential neighborhoods were reduced to dust in the pre-dawn attacks. The Israeli military alleged the targeted homes belonged to or were used by Islamic Jihad militants. The residents denied the army’s claims and said they had no idea why their homes were targeted.
“We have no rocket launching pads at all. This is a residential area,” said Awni Obaid, beside the debris of what was his three-story house in the central town of Deir al-Balah.
Islamic Jihad has retaliated by firing a thousand rockets toward southern and central Israel. On Friday, the group escalated its assaults and fired rockets toward Jerusalem, setting off air raid sirens in the Israeli settlements south of the contested capital.
Most of the rockets have fallen short or been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system. But a rocket on Thursday penetrated missile defenses and sliced through a house in the central city of Rehovot, killing an 80-year-old woman and wounding several others.
As the de facto government held responsible for the abysmal conditions in the blockaded Gaza Strip, Hamas has recently tried to keep a lid on its conflict with Israel. Islamic Jihad, on the other hand, a more ideological and unruly militant group, has taken the lead in the past few rounds of fighting with Israel.
On Saturday, the deadly Israeli raid into the Balata refugee camp turned the focus of the conflict back to the long-simmering West Bank. Residents said that Israeli forces besieged a militant hideout, sharing footage of a large explosion and smoke billowing from the crowded camp.
The Israeli military said the targeted apartment harbored militants who had planned attacks against Israeli soldiers and manufactured improvised explosive devices. It said the fiery blast erupted after Israeli security forces detonated explosives inside the hideout. The two Palestinians were killed when Israeli forces opened fire on a group of gunmen who were shooting at them, the military said.
Israeli-Palestinian fighting has surged in the West Bank under Israel’s most right-wing government in history. Since the start of the year, 111 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied territory, at least half of them affiliated with militant groups, according to a tally by The Associated Press — the highest death toll in some two decades. In that time, 20 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis.