Fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip stretched into a second day on Saturday in what has become the biggest conflagration in the territory in a year.
Israel, which initiated a military operation with a series of airstrikes on Gaza on Friday, targeted what it said were rocket factories and depots belonging to the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad on Saturday. The militants fired rockets over the Israeli towns closest to Gaza.
Local news reports showed images of two residential buildings being flattened by Israeli missile strikes on Saturday. The Israeli military said its helicopters and vessels had targeted what it described as two weapons storage facilities, which it said were located “in the residences of terrorist operatives in the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip.” It was not immediately clear whether they were referring to the same residential buildings.
Rockets fired from Gaza hit a house in the Israeli border town of Sderot and another Israeli community near the Gaza border on Saturday, according to the Israeli police and local news media reports. One civilian was lightly injured.
By midday, sirens warning of incoming rocket fire were sounding farther north in the Israeli port city of Ashdod.
The Palestinian death toll for two days of fighting had risen to 15 by Saturday afternoon with 125 injured, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. A 5-year-old girl was among those killed on Friday.
Two Israeli soldiers were wounded on Saturday by a mortar shell that fell on an Israeli communal farm near the Gaza border, according to the military.
Most of the projectiles fired into Israeli appeared to have either fallen into open areas or been intercepted by the country’s Iron Dome air defense system.
No cease-fire appeared imminent, despite early mediation efforts by international actors, including the United Nations. Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the political bureau of Hamas, the dominant Islamic militant group in Gaza, said that he had spoken overnight with officials from Egypt and Qatar as well as with the United Nations.
The fighting erupted on Friday afternoon when Israel launched airstrikes that it said were an attempt to foil an imminent attack from Gaza by Islamic Jihad after almost a week of rising tensions between Israel and the second-largest militant group in Gaza. Israeli officials have said that they are targeting only Islamic Jihad, after they said that it had been on the verge of firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli targets on Friday afternoon.
Israel arrested one of the group’s senior commanders this week in the West Bank, leading to threats of reprisal from its Gaza leadership. One Israeli airstrike on Friday killed Taysir al-Jabari, a senior leader of the armed wing of Islamic Jihad.
The Israeli military also said it had arrested 19 Islamic Jihad operatives in raids overnight across the occupied West Bank.
On Saturday morning, an Israeli military spokesman, Ran Kochav, told Israeli public radio that the fighting would most likely last for at least a week and that no negotiations to end the hostilities were underway.
But overnight, the militants reduced the range of their rocket fire, aiming mostly at areas close to Gaza instead of cities farther to the north, which they initially targeted.
Analysts said that recalibration could prevent the situation from escalating further – as could a decision by Hamas to remain on the sidelines of the fighting.
Islamic Jihad sometimes acts independently of Hamas, which does not always support the smaller group in its rocket wars with Israel.
Fady Hanona contributed reporting.