The Israeli military carried out airstrikes in the Palestinian coastal enclave of Gaza on Wednesday, saying that it was hitting the rocket-launching infrastructure of the militant group Islamic Jihad. Shortly afterward, militants in Gaza began firing salvos of rockets toward Israel, reaching as far north as the skies above the suburbs of Tel Aviv.
The strikes and rocket attacks came as residents of Israel and Gaza braced for a flare-up of fighting and retaliation by Islamic Jihad after an attack on the group by Israel on Tuesday killed three of its top commanders, along with nine civilians, four of them children, according to Palestinian officials.
In addition to the strikes on the Islamic Jihad rocket infrastructure, the Israeli military also said it struck militants on their way to a rocket-launching site in the southern Gaza Strip earlier Wednesday. At least one Palestinian was killed in that strike, according to initial reports, though the identity of the person and details of the event remained unclear.
Scores of rockets were fired from Gaza within an hour around lunchtime on Wednesday, with the initial barrages directed mostly at southern Israel, the military said. There were no immediate reports of casualties, but a house in the Israeli border town of Sderot suffered a direct hit.
Videos posted on an Israeli news site showed what appeared to be the interception of at least one rocket by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system in the skies near Tel Aviv.
Officials and analysts said the question of whether Hamas, the larger militant group that controls Gaza, would join Islamic Jihad in retaliatory action against Israel will determine the length and intensity of the current round of fighting.
The Israeli military’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said the rockets fired so far on Wednesday were being launched solely by Islamic Jihad and that there was no indication that Hamas was directly involved.
Amid fears of an upsurge in fighting, Palestinian schools in Gaza remained shuttered on Wednesday, as did Israeli schools within easy range of the territory.
Thousands of Israeli residents of towns and villages along the border left their homes in the area on Tuesday amid concerns that Islamic Jihad or other militant groups in Gaza would retaliate for the Israeli airstrikes.
Typically, significant Israeli airstrikes on Gaza quickly prompt militants in the enclave to launch rockets into southern Israel, and then Israel responds with more missile attacks.
A senior Islamic Jihad official, Muhammad al-Hindi, told Arabic news media on Tuesday that his group and the other militant factions would be the only ones to “determine the exact nature and timing of the response that will inevitably come.”
Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, warned Israelis in a televised address on Tuesday night about the threat of rocket fire and previewed further Israeli military action.
“It is important to note that the campaign is not behind us,” he said, adding, “Our defense establishment is prepared for every scenario — including for the possibility of a longer and multi-front campaign.”
On Tuesday evening, two more Palestinians were killed and two others injured in an Israeli strike on a car in the city of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. The Israeli military said that the passengers were members of an Islamic Jihad squad who were on their way to a launchpad and were carrying a number of anti-tank guided missiles.
Israel is now engaged in its third confrontation in 10 months with Islamic Jihad, a group that Israel, the United States and many other Western countries classify as a terrorist organization.
Israel’s operation against Islamic Jihad on Tuesday had taken some time to be carried out, officials said, as the military waited for the required intelligence and weather conditions.
They said that the decision to kill leaders of the group in Gaza was made on May 2, the day that Islamic Jihad fired more than a hundred rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel after the death in Israeli custody of a Palestinian hunger striker, Khader Adnan, who was protesting his detention. Mr. Adnan was an Islamic Jihad leader from the occupied West Bank.
This year has already proved to be the deadliest in more than two decades for Palestinians and Israelis. More than 110 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, according to Palestinian officials, with most of the deaths coming in clashes during raids by Israeli forces. At least 19 Israelis have been killed in attacks by Palestinians.
Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting from Gaza City, Hiba Yazbek from Jerusalem and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.