Israel said Sunday it had killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in a crowded Gaza Strip refugee camp, the second such targeted attack since it launched its high-risk military offensive against the militant group just before the weekend.
The backed militant group has fired hundreds of rockets at Israel in response, raising the risk that cross-border fighting could escalate into a full-blown war.
He appears to be staying on the sidelines for now, possibly because he fears Israeli retaliation and the unraveling of economic deals with Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gaza residents, tightening his grip. Islamic Jihad commander Khaled Mansour was killed in an airstrike.
At an apartment building in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday night. Two other militants and five civilians were also killed in the attack, bringing the Palestinian death toll to 31,
since the Israeli offensive began on Friday.
Among the dead were six children and four women. The Palestinian Ministry of Health said more than 250 people had been injured since Friday. Israel says some of the deaths were caused by misguided rocket fire, including an incident at the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza that killed six Palestinians on Saturday.
A shell hit a house in the same area of Jebaliya on Sunday, killing two men. The Palestinians blamed Israel, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area was hit by a misguided rocket.
Mansour, the Islamic Jihad commander for the southern Gaza Strip, was at the home of a member of the group when the rocket landed, bringing down the three-story building and severely damaging nearby houses. “Suddenly, without warning, the house next to ours was bombed. and everything turned black and dusty with smoke in no time,” said Wissam Jouda, who lives next door to the attacked building.
Ahmed al-Qaisi, another neighbor, said his wife and son were among the injured, suffering from shrapnel wounds. To make way for rescuers, al-Qaisi agreed to demolish part of his house. As Mansour’s funeral began Sunday afternoon in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army said it was targeting suspected Islamic Jihad rocket launch sites.
Smoke from the attacks could be seen as the pounding of their blasts rocked Gaza. Israeli airstrikes and rocket fire continued for hours while sirens wailed in central Israel. The Israeli Defense Ministry said mortars fired from Gaza struck the Erez border crossing into Israel used by thousands. of Gazans per day. Mortars damaged the ceiling and shrapnel hit the entrance of the room, the ministry said.
The crossing was closed during the fighting. The Rafah attack was the deadliest yet in the current round of fighting that Israel began on Friday with the targeted assassination of the Islamic Jihad commander in the northern Gaza Strip.
Israel has said it has acted against the militant group over specific threats of an impending attack but has not given details. Interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid, a seasoned diplomat but inexperienced in overseeing a war, launched the offensive less than three months ago. ahead of a general election where he is fighting to retain the post.
In a statement Sunday, Lapid said the military would continue to strike targets in Gaza “in a precise and responsible manner to minimize damage to non-combatants.” Lapid called the attack that killed Mansour “an extraordinary feat”. “The operation will continue for as long as necessary,” Lapid said. Israel estimates that its airstrikes killed about 15 militants.
Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and sympathizers than Hamas, and little is known about its arsenal. Both groups call for Israel’s destruction but have different priorities, with Hamas being constrained by the government’s demands.
The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired about 580 rockets at Israel. The army said its air defenses intercepted many of them and that two of those shot down were shot at Jerusalem. Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and sympathizers than Hamas. For the first time since last year’s war between Israel and Hamas, air raid sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area on Sunday. Jerusalem is often a focal point during times of cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza.
On Sunday, hundreds of Jews, including ultranationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, visited a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The visit, under heavy police protection, ended without incident said the police. Such demonstrative visits by Israeli hardliners seeking to underscore Israeli claims to sovereignty over disputed Jerusalem have in the past sparked violence.
The holy site lies at the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is at the center of the rival narratives of Palestinians and Israeli Jews. In Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank, Israeli security forces said they had arrested 19 people suspected of belonging to Islamic Jihad in night raids. which, according to Israel, were intended to prevent an imminent attack. On Sunday, Hamas still appeared to be staying out of the fight.
The group has a strong incentive to avoid another war. Last year’s war between Israel and Hamas, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles in the past 15 years, took a staggering toll on the impoverished area’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents. Since the last war, Israel and Hamas have made tacit deals based on trading calm for work permits and a slight relaxation of the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas invaded the area 15 years ago. Israel has issued ,12,000 work permits to Gaza workers and has promised another 2,000 work permits.
The only power plant in Gaza was shut down on Saturday afternoon due to a lack of fuel. Israel has closed its border crossings to Gaza since Tuesday. With the new blackout, Gaza residents can only use electricity for four hours a day, increasing their dependency. in private generators and the aggravation of the territory’s chronic energy crisis amid the summer heat.