Israel and Palestinian militants launched salvoes of fire for a fifth day on Saturday, with the Islamic Jihad militant group firing dozens more rockets and the Israeli army hitting targets inside the Gaza Strip.
There were no immediate reports of casualties in Gaza or Israel on Saturday. But in a reminder of the arson situation in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli army 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 Said Mesha, 32, and Adnan Araj, 19. At least three other Palestinians were wounded in the attack, the latest in a near-daily Israeli arrest of suspected militants in the territory.
Meanwhile, hopes of an imminent ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad were fading as the Israeli army on Saturday shelled an apartment belonging to Islamic Jihad commander Mohammed Abu Al Atta, among other targets, including rocket launchers, said.
Islamic Jihad militants fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel, where tens of thousands of Israelis were told to stay close to safe rooms and bomb shelters. Hundreds of residents near the border were evacuated to hotels further north. Shrapnel from a missile that struck Shokeda, a farming community in the south, seriously injured two herdsmen in their 40s and moderately wounded another, Israeli medics said.
Islamic Jihad promised a new attack. «As the killings and shelling 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 the media that Egyptian-led efforts to negotiate a ceasefire were still underway, but that Israel scrapped the conditions put forward by Islamic Jihad in the talks. Israel has only said that reassurance will be met with reassurance, while Islamic Jihad has been pressing Israel to agree to stop the targeted killings, among other demands. If the rocket fire from Gaza continues, Israeli officials told local media, «the attacks (on Gaza) will continue and intensify.»
Hostilities broke out on Tuesday. when Israel attacked and killed three senior Islamic Jihad commanders who it said were responsible for firing rockets into the country last week. At least 10 civilians, including women, young children and uninvolved neighbors, were killed in those initial attacks, drawing regional condemnation.
In recent days, Israel has carried out more airstrikes, killing other top Islamic Jihad commanders and destroying its command centers and rocket launch sites. On Friday, Israel killed Iyad al-Hassanian Islamic Jihad commander who had replaced a leader of the group’s military operations killed in an airstrike on Tuesday.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health has reported 33 dead Palestinians, six of them children, and more than 147 wounded.
On Saturday, the Palestinians ventured out to assess the damage caused by Israeli warplanes and salvage what they could. A man carefully pulled out documents from under the rubble. Another took a mattress.
Four houses in densely populated residential neighborhoods were reduced to dust in pre-dawn attacks. The Israeli army claimed that the houses attacked belonged to or were used by Islamic Jihad militants. Residents denied the army’s claims and said they had no idea why their houses were attacked.
“We don’t have rocket launch pads at all. This is a residential area,” Awni Obaid said, standing next to the rubble of what was once his three-story house in the central city of Deir al-Balah.
Islamic Jihad has retaliated by firing 1,000 rockets into southern and central Israel. On Friday, the group stepped up its attacks and fired rockets toward Jerusalem, sounding air-raid sirens in Israeli settlements south of the disputed capital.
Most of the rockets have either fallen short or been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system. But on Thursday, a rocket tore through missile defenses and tore through a house in the central city of Rehovot, killing an 80-year-old woman and wounding several others.
With the de facto government blamed for the dire conditions in the blockaded Gaza Strip, Hamas has recently tried to keep its conflict with Israel at bay. Islamic Jihad, on the other hand, a more ideological and rebellious militant group, has taken the lead in recent rounds of fighting with Israel.
On Saturday, the deadly Israeli raid on the Balata refugee camp shifted the focus of the conflict back to the long-simmering West Bank. Residents said Israeli forces besieged a militant hideout and shared footage of a huge explosion and smoke billowing from the crowded camp.