Palestinian armed factions in Gaza fired more than 350 rockets toward Israel 36 hours after the Israeli military launched airstrikes killing more than a dozen people in Gaza, including several civilians and three senior commanders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
The big picture: It’s the biggest escalation in Gaza since last August when Israel conducted another operation against the PIJ.
Driving the news: The Israeli air force began its airstrikes overnight Monday into Tuesday.
- At least 10 civilians in Gaza were killed in that round of strikes, including women and children in the first round of strikes. The commander of the PIJ’s rocket units was among the three senior militants killed.
- The Israeli military said the air force conducted multiple more rounds of strikes Tuesday afternoon and on Wednesday targeting PIJ operatives.
- Shortly after Wednesday’s strikes, heavy rocket barrages were fired from Gaza toward Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip and toward Tel Aviv and other cities in the center of Israel. About half of the more than 350 rockets fired crossed into Israeli territory. Most of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome system. There were no casualties.
- The Gaza Ministry of Health said 21 Palestinians were killed and 40 wounded since the military operation started.
Behind the scenes: It took about 36 hours for the PIJ to retaliate. Israeli officials attributed the delay to a command-and-control crisis created by the killing of the organization’s military leaders.
- Israeli officials claimed the PIJ wanted to conduct a “quality attack” like an anti-tank missile attack or an attack in the West Bank, but several of its attempts were prevented by the Israeli military.
- “They know this rocket fire is meaningless and that most of it will be intercepted, but any other attack was prevented so they had no choice,” a senior Israeli official said.
- A PIJ spokesperson said on Tuesday that the group makes “the rules in fighting the enemy and all the options are open in response to the crimes of the occupation.”
State of play: A spokesperson for the PIJ said on Wednesday afternoon local time that Egypt was conducting mediation efforts with the Palestinians and the Israelis to reach a cease-fire in Gaza.
- Egypt told Israel that the PIJ wants a cease-fire in Gaza, an Israeli official told Axios.
Between the lines: After the first rocket barrage, Hamas issued a statement stressing it was a united response by all of the factions in Gaza.
- But Israeli officials claimed the statement was mostly meant to save face because the organization that controls the Gaza strip wasn’t really involved in the fighting.
- “We don’t see that Hamas is involved in the fighting in Gaza at the moment. I am putting aside their declarations. We will react to actions and we don’t see Hamas actions at the moment,” IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters.
- A senior Israeli official told Axios that if Hamas was really part of the fighting, it would have been picked up immediately by Israeli intelligence. “It is not the case at the moment,” the official said.
What’s next: Israeli officials believe the fighting will continue for at least another day. They said Hamas, who doesn’t want to see further escalation, will likely start pressing PIJ in the coming 24 hours to go for a cease-fire.- axios