The Israeli army announces the arrest of 19 people it believes are members of the Islamic Jihad group and says preparations are on for week-long operations.

Health authorities in Gaza say 11 people have been killed by Israel's bombardment, including a five-year-old girl, with more than 80 others injured.
Health authorities in Gaza say 11 people have been killed by Israel's bombardment, including a five-year-old girl, with more than 80 others injured. (AFP)

Israel has hit Gaza with air strikes for a second day, drawing retaliation from an armed Palestinian group, in the territory's worst escalation of violence since a war last year.

Israeli army spokesperson Ran Kochav said on Saturday his military was preparing for week-long operations in the besieged territory, where Palestinian Health Ministry said at least 11 people had been killed since Friday.

Israel says it has launched a "pre-emptive" operation against the Islamic Jihad group. Israel's army estimates that its operations killed 15 fighters in Gaza, including a senior commander.

Early on Saturday, Israel broadened its operation against Islamic Jihad. The Israeli army announced the arrest of 19 people it said were members of the group in the occupied West Bank, alongside the arrest of one other person.

Israeli army spokesperson Kochav told Israeli Channel 12 that the Israeli response in Gaza was meant "not to drag the Hamas group into the ongoing conflict". So far, Gaza's Hamas rulers appeared to stay on the sidelines of the conflict.

Kochav said the Israeli army was targeting Islamic Jihad, adding that the group lacked organisation and command — which made it difficult to understand its decision-making process.

Israel and Islamic Jihad have both confirmed the killing of Taysir al-Jabari, a key leader of the armed group, in a Friday strike on a building in the west of Gaza city. The Palestinian Health Ministry also reported "a five-year-old girl" was among those killed.

Islamic Jihad said on Friday the initial Israeli bombardment amounted to a "declaration of war", before it unleashed a barrage of rockets towards Israel.

READ MORE: Child and commander among victims of Israeli strikes on Gaza

Power station shut

The rocket fire and Israeli strikes continued on Saturday, risking a repeat of an 11-day conflict in May 2021 that left at least 250 people in Gaza and 13 in Israel dead.

"Israel isn't interested in a wider conflict in Gaza, but will not shy away from one either," Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a nationally televised address on Friday.

Daily life in Gaza came to a standstill on Saturday, with streets largely deserted and most shops closed. Some power lines were disrupted by the Israeli air strikes.

Mohammed Thabet, spokesperson for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company, said the power station shut down "due to the fuel shortage".

Diesel for the plant is usually trucked in from Egypt or Israel, which closed its two border crossings with Gaza and restricted the movement of Israeli civilians living near the frontier on Tuesday, citing security concerns.

The measures followed the arrest in the occupied West Bank of two senior members of Islamic Jihad, including Bassem al-Saadi, who Israel accuses of orchestrating recent attacks.

Amid the escalation, air raid sirens sounded across southern Israel, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage, with many rockets intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defence system.

According to the Israeli army, over 160 rockets have been fired by Islamic Jihad group from Gaza, with 60 of them intercepted. 

Officials in border areas urged people to stay close to shelters, which have also been opened in Tel Aviv.

Egypt — a historic broker between Israel and groups in Gaza — the United Nations and Qatar had begun mediating an end to the violence, according to a Palestinian official with knowledge of the efforts.

READ MORE: Condemnations pour in after Israel launches deadly strikes on besieged Gaza

Source: TRTWorld and agencies