Gaza City – Israel attacked the besieged Gaza Strip with warplanes on Friday, killing at least 10 people including a commander of the Islamic Jihad group and a young girl.
Taysir al-Jabari, a commander of the al-Quds Brigades, the military arm of the Islamic Jihad, died in an air raid on an apartment in the Palestine Tower in the centre of Gaza City, the group said.
The health ministry in Gaza said at least 10 people were killed including al-Jabari and a five-year-old girl. At least 55 people were wounded and being treated at hospitals as a result of the Israeli raids.
Smoke poured out of the seventh floor of the building in Gaza City. Civil defence teams rushed to the scene to evacuate people and put out a fire caused by the attack.
“We’ve just had Friday lunch and my children were playing. Suddenly a huge explosion hit the tower in which we live. We ran away. The sound was massive. We were very shocked as the place is full of civilians. I saw many casualties that were evacuated,” one resident told Al Jazeera with blood covering his clothes.
Gaza-based author and activist Rana Shubair, who lives in the al-Remal neighbourhood in the western side of the Gaza Strip, said she heard “four to five loud bangs” when Israel attacked the Palestine Tower nearby.
“I was asleep and found myself waking up running, wondering what happened,” Shubair said.
“There was panic in the area, people running. You can imagine … the amount of horror that this caused for the people living in the building,” she added. “There were children playing … this was something really unpredictable for us.”
Multiple blasts could be heard and seen throughout Gaza. Israeli reconnaissance drones could be heard hovering over the besieged enclave.
Attacks also struck the southern areas of Khan Younis and Rafah, as well as the al-Shuja’iya neighbourhood.
In the first response to the attack, rocket fire from Gaza towards Israel could be seen as Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system lit up the night’s sky with explosions.
‘Duty to defend ourselves’
Renewed air strikes also struck the eastern Gaza Strip, with Israeli fighters jets continuing to roam above the densely populated city on Friday evening, Al Jazeera’s Youmna al-Sayed reported.
The attacks follow days of tension with the Islamic Jihad after the arrest of senior Palestinian leader Bassam al-Saadi in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.
They also came after days of border closures, including the closure of the Karam Abu Salem commercial crossing, which is responsible for the flow of fuel needed for Gaza’s sole power plant.
In a statement, the Islamic Jihad said: “The enemy has begun a war targeting our people, and we all have the duty to defend ourselves and our people, and not allow the enemy to get away with its actions which are aimed at undermining the resistance and national steadfastness.”
Ghazi Hamad, a senior official for Hamas – the group that governs the strip – said the latest attack is “a brutal crime, a massacre done by the Israeli occupation against our people”.
Hamad told Al Jazeera there is “no justification” for the attacks, adding that the Palestinian factions have the right to defend themselves and “protect” their people.
According to him, factions in Gaza have maintained “good coordination” and are exploring the “best option for the Palestinian people”.
“I think Israel is not interested in any mediation … there is no place for mediation, no place for peaceful talks,” Hamad said. “Our people are waiting for the Palestinian resistance to take the decision and retaliate.”
An Israeli military spokesman said “we are assuming about 15 killed in action” in Gaza, referring to Palestinian group fighters.
“We haven’t finished yet,” spokesman Richard Hecht told reporters, adding Israel expected retaliatory rocket fire against by Palestinian factions in Gaza.
Israeli also announced 25,000 reserve troops were being activated.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country has “zero tolerance” for attacks from Gaza but “no interest” in a broader battle.
‘A special situation’
Earlier on Friday, the Israeli army said it was striking Gaza, adding “a special situation has been declared on the Israeli home front”.
Israel closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it braced for a response after the arrest of a senior member of the Islamic Jihad group in the occupied West Bank on Monday.
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said in a statement it would respond to Friday’s “escalation”.
“The Israeli enemy is the one who started the escalation against the resistance in Gaza, and a new crime was committed, and it bears the full responsibility,” said Barhoum.
“The resistance will defend our people in the Gaza Strip with everything it has and will continue to respond.”
Ahmed Mudalal, an Islamic Jihad official in Gaza, said the group had made demands on Israel through Egyptian mediators, including the release of detained leader al-Saadi and another prisoner, a halt to West Bank raids, and the lifting of the Gaza blockade. He said they have not yet received a response.
Israel and Hamas, which govern Gaza, have fought four wars and engaged in several smaller skirmishes over the past 15 years.
Washington defended Israel’s deadly air strikes on Friday.
“The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist groups that have taken the lives of innocent civilians in Israel,” a White House National Security Council official told Al Jazeera. “We are urging all sides to avoid further escalation.”
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited communities near Gaza on Friday, saying authorities were preparing “actions that will remove the threat from this region”, without elaborating.
“We will operate with internal resilience and external strength in order to restore routine life in Israel’s south,” he said. “We do not seek conflict, yet we will not hesitate to defend our citizens, if required.”
Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade on Gaza for 14 years, and critics say the policy amounts to the collective punishment of the region’s two million Palestinian residents.