Israel kills second Islamic Jihad leader, Gaza death toll mounts

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An Israeli airstrike killed a second senior commander in the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, the fighters said Sunday as the death toll from violence in Gaza rose to 32, including six children, according to Palestinian health officials. As Israel pressed on with its assault, Palestinian militants retaliated with barrages of rockets fired at Israel.

The killing late Saturday of Khaled Mansour, who led the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad's operations in the southern Gaza Strip, came a day after another Israeli strike killed the militant's commander in the north.

The death toll from violence in Gaza since Israel launched its latest strikes Friday rose to 32, including six children, the health ministry in the Palestinian enclave said on Sunday. More than 215 others were wounded in the attacks.

Meanwhile in the West Bank, Israel pressed on with its operation against the Islamic Jihad group, arresting 20 suspects in overnight raids, the army announced on Sunday.

Palestinian militants retaliated with rockets fired toward Israel, triggering air raid sirens in Jerusalem, the Israel army said Sunday. The Islamic Jihad later confirmed the group had fired rockets at Jerusalem.

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The hundreds of rockets fired by Islamic Jihad in response is why the operation continues, said Israeli Justice Minister Gideon Saar, a member of the decision-making security cabinet.

Another potential flashpoint loomed on Sunday as Jews commemorating two ancient temples visited a major Jerusalem mosque compound that they revere as vestige of those shrines. Palestinians deem such visits a religious and political affront.

Israeli strike kills militant commander, flattens homes

The Al-Quds Brigades of Islamic Jihad confirmed Sunday that an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza city of Rafah killed Mansour and two fellow militants. The militants said the strike also killed five civilians, including a child and three women, as it flattened several homes.

The fighting began with Israel’s killing of a senior Islamic Jihad commander in a wave of strikes Friday that Israel said were meant to prevent an imminent attack.

Hamas, the larger militant group that rules Gaza, appeared to remain on the sidelines of the conflict for now, keeping its response limited. Israel and Hamas fought a war barely a year ago, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles over the last 15 years that exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

Daily life in the strip 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 had become accustomed to preparing a "survival bag" of items such as money and medicine.

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

Civilians in southern and central Israel, meanwhile, have been forced into air raid shelters since Friday.

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 had 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.

All eyes on Hamas

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

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.

Focus will in part turn to Jerusalem on Sunday, where some Jews will mark the Tisha Be'av remembrance day by visiting the holy city's most sensitive religious site, the Al Aqsa mosque compound, known in Judaism as the Temple Mount.

Tensions at the compound in Israel-annexed east Jerusalem have previously sparked wider violence, and Hamas's Doha-based chief Ismail Haniyeh has warned against allowing Jews to "storm" the compound on Sunday, saying it could lead to an "uncontrollable" security crisis given events in Gaza.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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