Fears of a new war in the Gaza Strip are growing following two days of “pre-emptive” Israeli airstrikes against a Palestinian militant group.
Israeli warplanes hit a number sites in the region on Friday, part of a surprise operation named “Breaking Dawn” that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said were a preventative measure against planned rocket attacks by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Israel later warned that the bombing campaign could last for a week, after the militants fought back against the operation. The events mark the biggest escalation in tensions for more than 12 months.
Exchanges of fire have continued in the area, with Israel appearing to have broadened the scope of the operation. Palestinian health authorities report 24 deaths so far, with more than 80 people injured.
For its part, Israel claims a stray rocket from Islamic Jihad militants killed multiple children in Jabalia, northern Gaza, on Saturday.
Although it sometimes acts independently, Islamic Jihad is closely aligned with Hamas, the dominant force of militant resistance in the region. Whether the latest confrontation between Israel and Islamic Jihad descends into war depends strongly on how Hamas – deemed a terrorist organization by most of the international community – decides to respond.
The group has denounced the airstrikes, declaring its support for Islamic Jihad. “The resistance, with all its arms and military factions, is united in this campaign and will have the last word,” Hamas officials said in a statement.