The Palestinian Health Ministry said at least seven people were killed and 40 wounded in two initial attacks, one in Gaza City and the other in Kanunis in southern Gaza. Video posted on social media showed extensive damage to at least one multi-storey building.
A senior Islamic Jihad leader, Taisir Jabari, was among the dead, according to a Palestinian Islamic Jihad statement.
After the attack, Israel Defense Forces said it was targeting militants from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza in an operation dubbed “Breaking Dawn”. According to Palestinian media, the first strikes may have targeted leaders of al-Quds forces, the military wing of Islamic Jihad.
The enclave is governed by the militant group Hamas, which is generally seen as a rival to Islamic Jihad. But Hamas condemned the attack. “The resistance, with all its military arms and factions, is united in this battle and will speak its word with full force,” the group said in a statement. “It is no longer acceptable for this situation to continue.”
The Israeli military sealed off checkpoints in and out of Gaza and closed roads and restricted movement in nearby Israeli communities as tensions escalated in recent days. The move prompted complaints from citizens that they were being held hostage by Gaza’s threats and calls from Israeli hardliners for action inside Israeli territory.
“To our enemies, especially Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad leadership, I want to stress, your time is up,” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said during a tour of the area earlier Friday.
After Friday’s operation, the military warned residents within 80 kilometers of Gaza, including Tel Aviv, to be on guard against rocket fire and issued an emergency alert lasting at least until Saturday evening.
Israeli forces arrested Islamic Jihad leader Bassam al-Saadi after a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin on Tuesday. A 17-year-old Palestinian was killed in the clash. Israel said Al-Saadi, 62, was coordinating terrorist activities in an area known for armed resistance.
The exchange marks the most extensive military engagement between the two sides since an 11-day air war a year ago killed more than 250 Palestinians and 13 inside Israel.
Balusha reported from Gaza City.
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