Israel and insurgents in Gaza exchange fire after attacks

Gaza City, Gaza Strip.- Israeli airstrikes leveled homes in Gaza on Saturday while extremists’ rocket barrages against southern Israel persistedsparking fears of an escalation of the conflict that has already killed at least 15 people in the coastal strip.

The fighting began when Israeli forces killed a commander of the Palestinian extremist group Islamic Jihad in a series of attacks on Friday, which he said were aimed at preventing an imminent attack. A 5-year-old girl and two women were among those killed in those attacks.

Until now, Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, he seemed to stay out of the conflict, which somewhat contained its intensity. Israel and Hamas fought a war just a year ago, one of four major conflicts and several small ones in the past 15 years that have exacted a huge toll on the impoverished Palestinian territory of 2 million residents.

On Saturday afternoon, Israeli planes attacked four residential buildings in Gaza City, all apparently linked to Islamic Jihad militants. The destruction was the most intense in the current conflict in that densely populated city, but there were no reports of casualties.

In each case, the Israeli military had alerted residents in advance of the attacks. In the meantime, another attack on Saturday hit a vehicle, killing a 75-year-old woman and wounding six others.

In a televised address to the nation on Friday night, interim Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that “Israel is not interested in a broader conflict in Gaza, but it will not shy away from one either.”

“This government has a policy of zero tolerance for any attempted attack, of any kind, from Gaza into Israeli territory,” he said. “Israel will not sit idly by as long as there are those who try to harm its civilians.”

The violence is a test for Lapid, who has taken over as caretaker prime minister until elections in November, in which he hopes to stay in office.

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In one of the attacks, after warnings, Israeli fighter jets dropped two bombs on the house of an Islamic Jihad member. The blast leveled the two-story structure, leaving a huge debris-filled crater and severely damaging nearby homes.