Islamic Jihad said in a statement one of its senior leaders, Tayseer Al Jabari, had been killed in an Israeli strike. He was a commander in the Quds Brigade, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, the group said, and a member of its Military Council.
The Palestinian health ministry said at least 11 people were killed, including a 5-year-old girl, Alaa Qadoum, and a 23-year-old woman. Another 75 were injured, it said. Israel insists most of those killed were militants.
A CNN producer in Gaza saw medics carrying two bodies out of a building called the Palestine Tower which had been hit in one of the strikes.
An Israeli army statement said the military operation — which it called ‘Breaking Dawn’ — was targeting Islamic Jihad, the smaller of the two main militant groups in Gaza.
The Israeli army said the main focus of its military action was a preemptive airstrike on Al Jabari, and strikes on two anti-tank squads which were en route to carrying out an attack on Israeli forces.
On a call with reporters Friday night, an army spokesman said the two squads had been tracked for several days before the Air Force carried out its operation, adding Israel had been facing an imminent threat for several days as the two militant units moved very close to the fence separating Gaza from Israel.
A “special situation” has been declared in areas around Gaza, in anticipation of possible rocket fire, or other retaliatory attacks, the Israeli army said.
“The goal of this operation is the elimination of a concrete threat against the citizens of Israel and the civilians living adjacent to the Gaza Strip, as well as the targeting of terrorists and their sponsors,” Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a joint statement.
“The Israeli government will not allow terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to set the agenda in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and threaten the citizens of the State of Israel. Anyone who tries to harm Israel should know: We will find you,” Lapid said.
Islamic Jihad has vowed to respond. “All options are open, with all means that the Palestinian resistance has, whether in Gaza or outside,” spokesman Daoud Shehab said on Al Jazeera. “The battlefield is open … The resistance will respond with all force. We will not say how, but it is inevitable.”
Meanwhile, Gantz authorized the call-up of 25,000 reservists on Friday evening, signaling Israel’s preparedness for a full-scale escalation.
Those immediately called up will reinforce the army’s southern command, which includes the area around Gaza, as well as units operating Israel’s aerial defense systems, among other deployments, the Defense Ministry said.
Sirens indicating incoming rocket fire were heard in the southern town of Sderot and other villages close to Gaza late Friday evening. Earlier, sirens sounded in Bat Yam, located just a few kilometers south of Tel Aviv, and in Yavne, which lies between Tel Aviv and Ashdod. Israeli media reported many rockets have been intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system, with no reports of any casualties in Israel.
Since Friday evening, Palestinian militants have fired 193 rockets toward Israel, according to the…