Deadly Israel-Gaza escalation rages for second day
Exchanges of fire triggered by Israel’s targeted killing of a top militant in Gaza raged for a second day Wednesday and showed little sign of easing, with 22 Palestinians killed.
Fresh rocket barrages were fired at Israel, which responded with strikes on what it said were Islamic Jihad militant sites and rocket-launching squads in the Gaza Strip.
Air raid sirens wailed and fireballs exploded as air defence missiles intercepted rockets, sending Israelis rushing to bomb shelters.
In Gaza, residents surveyed damage and mourned the dead outside a mortuary and at funerals.
UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov was expected in Cairo for talks on halting the fighting, a diplomatic source said, but a source close to the discussions warned the risk of further escalation remained high.
In comments Wednesday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Islamic Jihad must stop its stop rocket attacks or “absorb more and more blows”.
He reiterated his warning that “this could take time” and said Israel would respond to attacks “without mercy.”
Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Barayem said the group was not interested in mediation for now as it responded to the killing of one of its commanders.
Israel killed senior Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata and his wife Asma in a targeted strike early Tuesday, prompting barrages of rocket fire in revenge and retaliatory Israeli air strikes.
According to Israel, Ata was responsible for rocket fire at Israel as well as other attacks and was planning more violence, with the military calling him a “ticking bomb.”
The flare-up raised fears of a new conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, who have fought three wars since 2008.
A total of 22 Palestinians have been killed so far, including Ata and his wife, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.
Islamic Jihad confirmed that the dead included other members of its armed wing.
Since Israel’s killing of Ata in what was believed to be a drone strike, at least 220 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza and dozens have been intercepted by air defences, according to the army.
There have been no Israeli deaths, though damage has been caused and one rocket narrowly missed cars on a busy highway.
Israeli medics said they had treated 48 people with light wounds, while schools were closed in areas near the Gaza border for a second day running.
On Tuesday, school closures included the commercial capital Tel Aviv.