Schools closed throughout southern Israel, people stayed home from work and large public gatherings were banned. Air raid sirens wailed during the day and into the evening.
By Wednesday night, the army said rockets had been fired at Israel. In Gaza, schools and public institutions also were closed for a second day and there were few cars on the streets, with people mostly staying indoors.
After nightfall, Gaza City resembled a ghost town, with streets empty and the whooshing sounds of outgoing rockets and explosions of Israeli airstrikes heard. Virtually the only vehicles on the roads were wailing ambulances.
In a scene that could fuel more violence, phone video shot by someone living nearby being circulated on social media showed neighbors and emergency workers frantically digging through the debris in search of bodies following the Thursday morning strike. Those killed included children, according to the health ministry in Gaza. Twelve people were also wounded. Hamas, the larger and more powerful militant group that controls Gaza, has so far avoided entering the fray — a possible sign the violence could be brief.
Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel, has a much more lethal arsenal than Islamic Jihad. That could change if the fighting drags on and the death toll continues to climb. Palestinian health officials reported 26 dead from Israeli airstrikes, including at least 16 militants. Five civilians, including a woman and boys ages 17, 16 and 7, were among the dead. The identities of the others killed were not immediately known.
In the southern town of Khan Younis, the military fired a nonexplosive warning shot at the two-story home of the Zourob family late Tuesday to make them evacuate. On Wednesday, Najab Zourob sat on the debris of her former home, next to a bomb crater, as her children tried to salvage belongings.
She said she had no idea why their house had been targeted. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the army was limiting its strikes to Islamic Jihad targets and avoiding conflict with Hamas to prevent an escalation. Israeli tanks, armored vehicles and artillery batteries took up positions along the Gaza border. A few homes suffered direct hits, though, and there was a near miss on a major highway, where a rocket crashed just after a vehicle passed.
In all, three people suffered slight wounds from shrapnel or shattered glass caused by rocket fire, medical officials said.
In Gaza, it supplies Islamic Jihad with cash, weapons and expertise. Netanyahu also has claimed Iran is using Iraq and far-off Yemen, where Tehran supports Shiite Houthi rebels at war with a Saudi-led coalition backing the government, to plan attacks against Israel.
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