Gaza death toll rises as ceasefire talks get under way

On Sunday, Israeli warplanes brought down targets in the Gaza Strip, increasing the Palestinian death toll, and militants repeatedly fired rocket fire that penetrated deep into Israel, even as reports indicated that the parties sought a ceasefire agreement.

As Egyptian officials worked on a deal, seven more people were killed in Gaza, bringing the Palestinian death toll to 36 since Israel’s offensive began on Friday.

Among the dead were 11 children and four women. The Palestinian Health Ministry said more than 311 people had been injured since Friday.

The Iranian-backed Palestinian Jihad militant group has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel in response, and the risk of cross-border fighting escalating into a full-blown war remains as long as no truce is reached.

Israel says some of the dead were killed by misfired rockets.

Palestinians of IsraelPalestinians search the rubble of a building in which Khaled Mansour was killed (Yousef Masoud/AP)

Gaza’s ruling Hamas group, which fought an 11-day war with Israel in May 2021, appears to be on the sidelines for now, perhaps because it fears Israeli retaliation and the rollback of economic deals with Israel. Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gaza residents, which reinforces its control.

If so, ceasefire efforts could bear fruit. According to an Egyptian intelligence official, Israel and Palestinian militant groups gave initial approval to a ceasefire offer earlier on Sunday, but it was unclear when it might come into effect.

While Israel has not addressed ceasefire talks, Islamic Jihad spokesman Tareq Selmi played down expectations of a deal, citing the rising Palestinian death toll.

“We are not talking about ceasefire so far, we are not talking about mediators, we are talking about the aggressive conduct of the Zionist enemy,” he said. “The battle is on.”

Israel launched its operation with a strike Friday on an Islamic Jihad leader, and followed up Saturday with another targeted strike on a second prominent leader.

Palestinians IsraelSmoke rises after Israeli airstrikes in Gaza (Adel Hana/AP)

Islamic Jihad’s second commander, Khaled Mansour, was killed Saturday night in an airstrike on a building in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza that also killed two other militants and five civilians.

Mansour, the Islamic Jihad commander for southern Gaza, was in the apartment of a member of the group when the missile struck, flattening the three-story building and severely damaging nearby homes.

As Mansour’s funeral began on Sunday afternoon in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said it was striking “suspected Islamic Jihad rocket launching posts”.

Smoke could be seen from the strikes as the blasts from their explosions rocked Gaza. Israeli airstrikes and rocket fire followed for hours as sirens wailed in central Israel. As the sunset call to prayer sounded Sunday evening in Gaza, sirens wailed as far north as Tel Aviv.

Israel says some of the deaths in this round were caused by errant rocket fire, including an incident in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza in which six Palestinians were killed on Saturday.

Israel PoliticsIsraeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid (Oded Balilty/AP)

On Sunday, a projectile hit a house in the same neighborhood of Jebaliya, killing two men. The Palestinians held Israel responsible, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area had been hit by an errant rocket.

Israel’s Defense Ministry said mortars fired from Gaza hit the Erez border crossing into Israel, used by thousands of Gazans every day. The mortars damaged the roof and shrapnel hit the hall entrance, the ministry said. The crossing point was closed amid the fighting.

The Rafah strike was the deadliest to date in the ongoing series of fighting, which was sparked by Israel on Friday with the targeted killing of the Islamic Jihad commander for northern Gaza.

Israel said it took action against the militant group due to concrete threats of an imminent attack, but did not provide details.

Acting Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who is an experienced diplomat but has no experience overseeing a war, launched the offensive less than three months before a general election in which he is campaigning to keep his job.

In a statement on Sunday, Lapid said the military would continue to strike targets in Gaza “in a precise and responsible manner to minimize harm to non-combatants”.

Mr Lapid said the strike that killed Mansour was “an extraordinary achievement”.

“The operation will continue for as long as necessary,” Lapid said.

Israel estimates that its airstrikes killed around 15 militants.

The Israeli military said militants in Gaza fired around 580 rockets into Israel. The army said its air defenses intercepted many of them, and two of those shot down were fired towards Jerusalem.

In Palestinian towns in the West Bank, Israeli security forces said they arrested 19 people suspected of belonging to Islamic Jihad in night raids.

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