Flares of fighting between Israel and Gaza for the second day

According to Palestinian health officials, the most violent conflict in more than a year between Israel and gunmen in Gaza has dragged on for a second day, with air strikes destroying residential buildings and killing people. 5 people in Gaza.

The Israeli military says it has attacked two residential areas in Gaza belonging to fighters of the Islamic Jihad rebel group, which it describes as an arsenal. Military officials said that advance warnings were in place and residential buildings were evacuated before the strikes.

Islamic Jihad and other smaller Palestinian militant groups in Gaza have fired rockets mainly at Israeli towns closest to the edge of the territory.

Renewed tensions underscore the challenge of containing outbreaks in Israel and the occupied territories as both Israeli and Palestinian leaders are divided and politically weak, international attention elsewhere and have little hope of ending the 15-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. of Israel and Egypt.

Professor Nathan J. Brown, a Middle East expert at George Washington University, said: “There is no end to this cycle and it seems unlikely that any actor wants to develop any alternatives. Which is more stable?

The fighting, which began Friday with Israeli air strikes, pitted Israel primarily against the Islamic Jihad Organization, the second-largest militant group in Gaza. Hamas, the dominant militia in Gaza, has so far avoided direct involvement, raising hopes that the conflict will not escalate into a larger war. However, no ceasefire is imminent, despite early reconciliation efforts by foreign diplomats and the United Nations.

The five Palestinians killed on Saturday brought the two-day death toll to 15, according to health officials in Gaza. One of those killed on Friday was a 5-year-old girl.

The only power plant in Gaza has been halted due to the freezing of fuel supplies from Israel, further reducing power in many territories.

The battles began on Friday when Israel proactively launched air strikes to thwart what it perceives as an impending attack from jihad in Gaza. Earlier this week, Israel arrested a high-ranking jihadist figure in the West Bank, prompting the group to threaten retaliation. Israel says its airstrikes are aimed at preventing the group from tracking those threats.

An air strike on Friday that killed a senior commander of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and prompted the group to return fire with several rockets and gunboats, sent thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters. Friday night.

Since the 11-day war last May, Israel has persuaded Gaza’s militias to avoid violence by issuing 14,000 work permits to Palestinian workers in the territory – the highest level since when Hamas took control of the strip in 2007.

About two million people live in Gaza and most do not directly benefit from the new permit. But permits still provide an important source of finance for thousands of families in the region, where nearly one in two are unemployed and only one in ten have direct access to clean water, according to UNICEF. Complicated medical treatment is often not available.

Despite losing that concession, especially while still rebuilding military infrastructure damaged in the last war, Hamas has avoided a major year-round escalation in Gaza while still encourages instability and violence in Israel and the West Bank.

But the jihadist organization, which, unlike Hamas, does not govern Gaza, is less motivated by small economic concessions.

Rockets and other projectiles fired from Gaza hit at least two Israeli towns on Saturday, injuring at least two soldiers and one civilian, according to Israeli officials and news reports. However, the majority of Palestinian rockets either landed in open areas or were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, according to the Israeli military.

The escalation is at least the sixth spike in violence in the strip since Hamas took control in 2007, prompting Israel and Egypt to begin a blockade. Israel was not prepared to end the blockade while Hamas was in power, and Hamas did not recognize Israel and refused to cease its armed activities.

In the absence of a formal peace process to end the conflict, repeated waves of violence in Gaza, as well as intermittent back-channel diplomatic outbursts, are seen as alternatives to renegotiate the terms of the blockade of Gaza.

“Without anything more permanent, both sides use violence not to defeat the other – much less to eliminate it – but only to adjust the terms, and also to play against the home audience. ,” said Mr. Brown, Middle East expert.

This escalation in Gaza may be related to the recent spike in violence across Israel and the West Bank a few months ago.

Increased Palestinian attacks on civilians in Israel during April and May led to an increase in Israeli air strikes on the West Bank, especially in areas that Israeli officials say know where the attackers and their accomplice come from.

The Israeli campaign has led to near-nightly arrests across the West Bank over the past several months, culminating in the arrest of Bassem Saadi, a high-ranking jihadist figure, this week.

The escalation is also a reminder of Iran’s enduring shadow on Israeli and Palestinian affairs. While Tehran’s nuclear program is considered by Israel to be the biggest threat, it also exerts influence in the region by providing financial and logistical help to friendly forces across the Middle East such as Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza.

Providing support to Palestinian militant groups allows Tehran to destabilize Gaza, the West Bank and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, analysts said. This could cause Israel to disperse its action on other fronts, including against Iran-aligned targets in Syria or in Iran itself.

Israel’s opening attacks in Gaza occurred while the leader of the Islamic Jihad, Ziad al-Nakhala, was visiting Tehran to meet with the group’s Iranian patrons – a factor that may have contributed to the jihadism. The group refused to back up its threats of revenge for the operation to capture Israel in the West Bank.

“Due to their total dependence on the Iranians, they have to do what the Iranians ask them to do,” said Kobi Michael, a national security expert at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.

The crisis has provided a first major test for Yair Lapid, Israel’s prime minister, who took office last month after the fall of his predecessor government.

The military campaign is a risky gamble for Mr. Lapid, a centrist often overlooked by his main rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister who currently leads the opposition. established, derided as inexperienced security.

The escalation gave Mr Lapid a chance to demonstrate his security credentials to Israeli voters, but it also left him open to accusations that he was endangering the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians. .

In Gaza, mourners calculated the cost of the escalation and grieve the loss of life.

Relatives of Alaa Qadoum, the 5-year-old girl killed in an air strike on Friday, wrapped her body in a white shroud and Palestinian flag, the images showed, she did not cover her face to allow The mourner kissed the little girl before her funeral on Friday. A bright pink bow ties most of her hair back.

In the past, Israel has blamed militants for civilian deaths, saying it often places missile launchers and bases near homes and infrastructure.

During a press conference with international reporters at a military base near the Gaza border in late July, senior Israeli military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with military regulations, spoke presented a map showing routes they believed were parts of the militia’s network of tunnels, including sections running beneath roads around a major university in Gaza.

The length and scope of the skirmish will partly depend on Hamas involvement.

Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political office, said on Friday that the group was “open to all directions”. On Saturday, he said he had spoken to mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations.

But on Saturday, Israeli military spokesman Ran Kochav told Israeli public radio the fighting would last at least a week.

Raja Abdulrahim, Carol Sutherland and Fady Hanona contributed reporting.

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