Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday that Israel was prepared to hit Iran-backed Islamic Jihad militants in the Gaza Strip "mercilessly," while saying the country was not looking to escalate the conflict."In the last day, we have destroyed important targets of Islamic Jihad," the caretaker prime ministertold a cabinet meeting, referring to the militants who launched more than 200 rockets into Israel after an Israeli airstrike killed Bahaa Abu el-Atta, one of its senior commanders, and his wife. "They have one choice, to stop these attacks or absorb more and more blows."The Tuesday strike on the second-largest militant group in the Gaza Strip triggered the most serious escalation of violence in the area in months. Since early Tuesday, Israel has pounded Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza, while rockets fired from the Strip reached as far as Tel Aviv.
Gaza's Health Ministry said 24 Palestinians have been killed in the flare up and 69 wounded. Of the 24, 20 were militants and four civilians, according to Palestinian officials. In Israel, 48 people were wounded, including two men who were injured by shrapnel, according to the country's emergency medical services.In Gaza, schools and most government offices remained closed for a second day Wednesday, as were schools throughout much of southern Israel. Border crossings into Gaza were also closed.In a sign that it may want to reduce the potential for a wider conflict, Israel has not hit Hamas — the largest militant group the runs Gaza — or mentioned its name in briefings.Netanyahu told the council heads of areas closest to the Gaza Strip Wednesday that Israel's action was carried out with "surgical precision."Meanwhile, Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian politician in the West Bank, condemned the targeted killing as well as the Israeli strikes."An entire captive civilian population is helpless and defenseless in the face of Israeli bombardment," she said in a statement.Imad Saudi, 52, told NBC News conditions in Gaza were close to unbearable."Life is almost non-existent and the markets and the shops are completely closed," said the father of seven. "We try to calm the kids but they live in fear."
In Nirim, an Israeli kibbutz on the border fence with Gaza, Adele Raemer said the conflict made it feel like life "was on hold.""I'm supposed to go to school tomorrow I have no idea if there's going to be school," she said in a video posted to her Facebook page about life on the border with Gaza.Anxiety has been running high throughout Israeli communities near the fence in southern Israel ever since March, 2018, when Palestinians started the "Great March of Return" demonstrations, as well as flocks of incendiary kites and explosive balloons as well as rockets from Gaza.Israel pulled out of the Strip in 2005 but keeps it under a blockade, citing security concerns. Aid officials warn that the 2 million Palestinians living there face imminent humanitarian collapse. Hamas and Israel have fought three wars between 2008 and 2014, after the group took control of the territory in 2007.Netanyahu is currently Israel's caretaker prime minister. His main rival,former military chief Benny Gantz, is trying to form a coalition government after Netanyahu failed to do so following an election in September.