Israel has launched multiple air attacks on the blockaded Gaza Strip a day after Israeli forces killed nine Palestinians – including an elderly woman – in the Jenin refugee camp, marking one of the deadliest raids in the occupied West Bank by Israel’s military in years.
Local sources in Gaza told Al Jazeera that Israeli warplanes had hit al-Maghazi refugee camp in the centre of the territory, with at least 13 strikes in the early hours of Friday.
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The al-Zaitoun neighbourhood in the south of Gaza City was also hit, as well as an open area east of Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza.
Witnesses and local media reported that Israeli drones fired two missiles at targets in Gaza before the fighter jets struck.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, and “cautious calm” had returned to Gaza by the morning, said Al Jazeera correspondent Maram Humaid.
The Israeli army said the air attacks on Gaza – one of the most densely populated areas in the world with 2.1 million residents – followed after two rockets were fired towards Israel at about midnight (22:00 GMT).
Air raid sirens had sounded in southern Israel as the initial two rockets were fired and then again after the Israeli air attacks.
The Israeli army said the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s air defence system and the country’s Channel 12 aired footage of Israeli interceptor missiles being launched into the night sky above the city of Ashkelon, about 12km (7 miles) north of Gaza.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the rockets later on Friday.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem had earlier said that armed groups in Gaza “will continue to carry out [their] duty to defend the Palestinian people and their sanctities, and will remain the people’s shield and sword”.
The Israeli air attacks and rocket fire followed Israeli forces killing nine people during a raid on the Jenin refugee camp. At least 20 people were also injured in what has been described as one of the deadliest days in the West Bank since Israel ramped up raids at the start of 2021.
A 22-year-old Palestinian man was also shot by Israeli forces in the town of al-Ram, north of Jerusalem.
Four of those injured in the raid were in critical condition, and the dead included an elderly woman who was identified as Magda Obaid by the Jenin hospital authorities.
Obaid’s family said she had been shot when she was peering out of her window.
Palestinians have described the Jenin raid as a “massacre”.
Fears of escalation
In Gaza, there were fears that the Israeli air attacks, following on from the Jenin raid, were an indication that a new conflict was going to break out, only five months after the last big Israeli assault on the blockaded territory killed at least 49 people.
“My children woke up [after the Israeli air attacks] … the sound was very loud,” Anas Abu Muailiq, who lives with his family in al-Maghazi, told Al Jazeera. “My house and windows shook greatly, and there were flames nearby – it turned out that a resistance site near our home had been bombed.”
“These short military escalations are often a prelude to wars, and we don’t wish for that,” Abu Muailiq added. “All we want is to live in peace and stability, what is happening to us is enough.”
Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defence minister, said on Friday that the Israeli military had been ordered to “prepare for action … in case we need to continue – until quiet is restored for the citizens of Israel”.
However, with the situation calm on Friday morning, the Israeli army allowed normal routine for Israelis living near Gaza, with stores and schools opened.
Speaking from Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Ilyas Karam said the Israeli assessment was that this “wave of confrontation has ended” and that the exchange of Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli air attacks had “not broken the normal rules of engagement” between the two sides.
However, Karam added, the next week would be vital in determining whether violence would escalate.
In the West Bank on Thursday, people filled the streets to show solidarity with Jenin as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Abbas had cut security coordination with Israel in “light of the repeated aggression against our people and the undermining of signed agreements”. He said Palestinians planned to file complaints with the United Nations Security Council, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other international bodies over Israel’s violence.
The United Arab Emirates, China and France have asked the UNSC to meet behind closed doors on Friday over the attacks, diplomats said.
Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said on Twitter he was “deeply alarmed” and “saddened” by the violence and that he was engaged with Israeli and Palestinian authorities to “de-escalate tensions, restore calm and avoid further conflict”.
#UN Envoy @TWennesland:
Deeply alarmed & saddened by the continuing cycle of violence. Crucial to reduce tensions immediately & prevent more loss of life. Urges, & remains engaged w/, 🇮🇱 & 🇵🇸 auths. to deescalate tensions, restore calm & avoid further conflict.
Full statement 👇 pic.twitter.com/KBIGcjnG7Q
— UNSCO (@UNSCO_MEPP) January 26, 2023
Israel’s far-right Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir lauded Israeli forces on the Jenin raid, saying those who try to “harm our personnel should know that his blood is forfeit”.