Israeli fighter jets storm Gaza on second day of attacks

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Israeli fighter jets have shelled the besieged Gaza Strip for the second day after a wave of airstrikes on the coastal enclave that killed at least 12 people, including a five-year-old girl and a commander of a Palestinian armed group.

The fighting, which began Friday with Israel’s targeted assassination of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander, continued through the night, drawing the sides closer to all-out war.

Shortly before noon on Saturday, Israel stepped up airstrikes on Gaza, knocking down a two-storey building in western Gaza City and severely damaging surrounding houses. Women and children ran out of the area.

“Warned us? They warned us with missiles and we fled without taking anything,” said Huda Shamallach, who lived next door, adding that 15 people lived in the house that was targeted.

Al Jazeera’s Youmna ElSayed said from Gaza that the attacks on Gaza “have not stopped since the early morning hours”.

ElSayed stood in front of another four-story house that had been flattened by an Israeli attack and said the building had housed 30 residents.

“Israel is now attacking homes,” she said, explaining that several other homes in the Gaza Strip were targeted. “Many people died in the strikes, including many children.”

Al Jazeera’s John Holman reported from the Gaza-Israel border that the area was on high alert with people on the Israeli side hiding as some rockets from Gaza fell on southern Israel.

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“We have the first report of injuries on the Israeli side – two soldiers,” he said, explaining that 160 rockets have been launched from Gaza into southern Israel since Friday.

“It gives you an indication of how unequal this battle between Israel – which has enormous military capabilities – and Islamic Jihad is,” he added.

Power plant shut down

Also on Saturday, Gaza’s only power plant was shut down after it ran out of fuel, a spokesman for the electricity company said, five days after Israel closed its goods crossing with the Palestinian enclave.

“The power plant in Gaza has been shut down because of the fuel shortage,” said Mohammed Thabet, spokesman for the electricity company.

Electricity supply is expected to drop to just four hours a day, Thabet said.

Diesel for the power plant is usually trucked in from Egypt or Israel, which has maintained a blockade of the enclave since the armed group Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.

In a statement earlier on Saturday, Gaza’s electric utility said the shutdown will “affect all public utilities and critical installations and exacerbate the humanitarian situation.”

The company called on all parties to intervene urgently and allow fuel deliveries to keep the power plant working.

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“This puts the people and health sector in a bigger crisis. There was eight hours of electricity in Gaza… this has been shortened to four hours. It will be nothing if no fuel enters the Strip,” said Al Jazeera’s ElSayed.

Gaza’s 2.3 million residents regularly face power shortages and received only an average of 10 hours of electricity a day last week, according to data from the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

Rising tensions

The latest round of violence between Israel and Gaza was sparked by the arrest this week of a senior Islamic Jihad commander in the occupied West Bank as part of a month-long Israeli military operation in the area.

Citing a security threat, Israel then closed roads around the Gaza Strip and on Friday killed Taysir al-Jabari, a commander of the al-Quds Brigades, in a targeted attack.

An explosion was heard in Gaza City, where smoke poured from the seventh floor of a high-rise building. Video released by the Israeli military showed the strikes blowing up three towers.

The Palestinian health ministry said the dead in Gaza included a five-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman, and dozens of others were injured.

Overnight, Israel arrested 19 members of Islamic Jihad in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military said.

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In a nationally televised address on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country launched the attacks on the basis of “concrete threats”.

The violence is an early test for Lapid, who took on the role of interim prime minister ahead of the November election, when he hopes to keep his position.

A centrist former TV host and author, Lapid has experience in diplomacy and has served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has a meager security credentials.

A conflict with Gaza could polish his reputation and give him a boost if he takes on former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country during three of the four wars with Hamas.

Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether or not to engage in another battle, barely a year after the last war caused widespread devastation.

Since then, there has been almost no reconstruction and the isolated coastal area is mired in poverty, with unemployment at around 50 percent.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that “the Israeli enemy, who started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it”.

The report that Israeli fighter jets shelled Gaza on the second day of the attacks appeared first on Al Jazeera.

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