GAZA: Egypt intervened on Tuesday to defuse tension after Israel launched the most devastating attacks on Gaza since the bloody conflict in 2014.
Israeli jets pounded dozens of military targets in the impoverished territory after what it said were cross-border rocket and mortar attacks by Gaza’s Hamas rulers and the militant group Islamic Jihad.
The clashes came after hundreds of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops during weeks of protests on the Gaza border.
A Palestinian official in Gaza said Egypt was in touch with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Israel to stop the fighting deteriorating into a wider conflict. Daoud Shehab, an Islamic Jihad spokesman, also said an Egyptian official had been in contact with the group to try to restore calm.
“If Israel abides by calm and ceases all forms of aggression against our people in Gaza, we will also maintain calm,” he said.
He said Islamic Jihad did not want the violence to escalate and blamed Israel for the flare-up.
There were no immediate reports of casualties in Gaza. Three Israeli soldiers were wounded by projectiles.
In a rare joint statement, Hamas and Islamic Jihad said the fire was in retaliation for Israeli attacks targeting their positions.
Three members of Islamic Jihad were killed in an Israeli strike on Sunday, and the group vowed revenge.
Early on Tuesday, about 30 mortar shells were fired toward Israel from Gaza. Israel said most were intercepted by its air defense systems.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed a “powerful” response after the initial mortar barrage.
Shortly after he spoke, Israel’s military began its airstrikes. Explosions shook the impoverished territory, which has been blockaded by Israel for more than a decade, and smoke rose from areas hit. At least seven bases of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were struck.
Later in the day, further rockets or mortar rounds from Gaza were intercepted by Israel. The Israeli military said some of the mortar rounds were supplied by Iran.
Israel said it responded by hitting more than 35 “military targets” throughout the day, including a tunnel that stretched under Egypt and into its territory, weapons storage facilities and militant bases.
Israel’s military said it was not seeking an escalation, but warned Hamas, with whom it has fought three wars since 2008.
“They have the ability, the control and the power to escalate or to de-escalate the situation, to rein in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and their own extremist factions in Hamas or to escalate the situation,” said military spokesman Jonathan Conricus.