Children react to an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Israel’s military warned Saturday deadly air strikes against Palestinian militants in Gaza could last a week, as cross-border fire reverberated for a second day in the worst escalation since last year’s war.

Israel has said it was necessary to launch a “pre-emptive” operation against Islamic Jihad, saying the group was planning an imminent attack following days of tensions along the border with Gaza.

Health authorities in the Palestinian enclave, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, said a five-year-old girl was among 15 people killed since Friday, adding that more than 140 have been wounded.

Civilians meanwhile took refuge in air raid shelters on the Israeli side, with AFP journalists hearing sirens warning of incoming fire in the Tel Aviv area on Saturday evening.

Map of the Gaza Strip locating its main cities.

Israel’s ongoing strikes are being met with barrages of rockets from the Palestinian side, stoking fears of a repeat of an 11-day conflict that devastated Gaza in May 2021.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Cairo is talking “around the clock” with both sides, which so far have rejected calls for hostilities to end.

Daily life in Gaza has come to a standstill, while the electricity distributor said the sole power station shut down due to a lack of fuel after Israel closed its border crossings.

Gaza’s health ministry said the next few hours will be “crucial and difficult”, warning it risked suspending vital services within 72 hours as a result of the lack of electricity.

- ‘We are all alone’ -

In Gaza City, resident Dounia Ismail said Palestinians have become accustomed to preparing a “survival bag” of items such as money and medicine.

A fireball erupts following an Israeli air strike on a building in Gaza City

“This latest escalation brings back images of fear, anxiety, and the feeling that we are all alone,” she told AFP.

On the Israeli side of the frontier, the Magen David Adom emergency service said two people were hospitalised with shrapnel wounds and 13 others were lightly hurt while running for safety.

In Kibbutz Nahal Oz, an Israeli community beside the Gaza border, resident Nadav Peretz said he has been “in the bomb shelter or around it” since Friday.

“We recognise that on the other side too there is an uninvolved civilian population, and on both sides children deserve to enjoy their summer vacation,” the 40-year-old said.

Egypt’s Sisi said Cairo is “making great efforts with our partners to restore calm”.

Paramedics rush to the scene of an Israeli air strike in Gaza City

“Contacts are maintained around the clock with everyone, so that things do not get out of control,” the president said in a speech.

But an Israeli military spokesman said its forces were “preparing for the operation to last a week,” and told AFP that the army is “not currently holding ceasefire negotiations”.

Islamic Jihad’s leader in Gaza, Mohammed al-Hindi, said: “The battle is still at its beginning.”

Israel and Islamic Jihad confirmed the killing of Taysir al-Jabari, a key commander of the militant group, in a Friday strike.

Islamic Jihad is aligned with Hamas, but often acts independently. Both are blacklisted as terrorist organisations by much of the West.

A salvo of rockets is fired towards Israel from Gaza City

Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict last May.

A flare-up with Islamic Jihad came in 2019, following Israel’s killing of Baha Abu al-Ata, Jabari’s predecessor. Hamas did not join the fray in that conflict.

Hamas’s moves now could prove crucial, with the group facing pressure from some to restore calm in order to improve economic conditions in Gaza.

- Five-year-old girl -

Mohammed Abu Salameh, the director of Shifa, Gaza City’s main hospital, said medics are facing “acute shortages of medical supplies”.

The UN humanitarian chief for the occupied Palestinian territories, Lynn Hastings, urged the warring sides to allow “fuel, food, and medical supplies” to be delivered to Gaza amid the worsening crisis.

A man sits surrounded by the wreckage of his home following an Israeli air strike in Jabalia camp refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip

On Friday, the health ministry reported “a five-year-old girl” was among those killed by Israeli fire.

The girl, Alaa Kaddum, had a pink bow in her hair and a wound on her forehead, as her body was carried by her father at her funeral.

Israeli military spokesman Richard Hecht said Friday “we are assuming about 15 killed in action” in Gaza, referring to Palestinian combatants.

The Gaza strikes follow 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.

Israel on Saturday broadened its operation against Islamic Jihad, announcing the arrest of 19 people in the West Bank it said were members of the group.

Israel has conducted a wave of often deadly raids in the West Bank since mid-March in response to lethal attacks on Israelis.