Islamic Jihad said in a statement that one of its top leaders, Tayseer Al Jabari, was killed in an Israeli strike. He was commander of 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 10 people had been killed, including a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman. 55 others were injured, he added. Israel insists most of those killed were militants.
A CNN producer in Gaza saw medics carry two bodies out of a building called the Palestine Tower that had been hit in one of the strikes.
An Israeli army statement said the military operation – which it called “Breaking Dawn” – targeted Islamic Jihad, the smaller of the two main militant groups in Gaza.
The Israeli army said the main objective of its military action was a pre-emptive airstrike on Al Jabari and strikes against two anti-tank squads that were on their way to carry out an attack against Israeli forces.
In a call with reporters Friday evening, an army spokesperson said the two squads were tracked for several days before the air force carried out its operation, adding that Israel had been facing an imminent threat for several days as the two militant units came very close. at the fence that separates 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 military said.
“The purpose of this operation is the elimination of a concrete threat against the citizens of Israel and civilians living near the Gaza Strip, as well as the targeting of terrorists and their sponsors,” the prime minister said. Israeli Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. said in a joint statement.
“The Israeli government will not allow terrorist organizations from 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 pledged to respond. “All options are open, with all the means available to the Palestinian resistance, whether in Gaza or outside,” spokesman Daoud Shehab told Al Jazeera. “The battlefield is open… The resistance will respond with all its might. We won’t say how, but it is inevitable.”
Meanwhile, Gantz authorized the recall of 25,000 reservists on Friday night, signaling Israel’s readiness 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 air defense systems, among other deployments, the Defense Ministry said.
Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, condemned the Israeli action. “The Israeli enemy, who triggered the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and bear full responsibility,” spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
The strikes come after Israeli forces captured a senior Islamic Jihad commander, Bassam al-Saadi, in a raid Monday night in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.
During the operation, a 17-year-old Palestinian linked to Islamic Jihad was shot dead in an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers, according to the Israeli army. The Palestinian Health Ministry said he was shot in the head by Israeli forces.
Saadi was one of two wanted terror suspects apprehended in the raid, Israel said. The Quds Brigade, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, said it was mobilizing its forces across the Palestinian territories in response.
Recent months have seen repeated Israeli operations in and around Jenin, after several deadly attacks inside Israel were carried out by Palestinian gunmen from the area. Thirty Palestinians have been killed in the raids since the start of the year, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.