Israel says it killed a top Islamic Jihad commander in an overcrowded refugee camp in Gaza, the second such targeted attack since launching its military offensive against the militant group just before the weekend.
The Iran-backed militant group has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel in response, and the risk of the cross-border fighting escalating into a full-blown war remains high.
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 work permits for thousands of Gaza residents.
Islamic Jihad commander Khaled Mansour was killed Saturday night in an airstrike on a residential building in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza.
Two other militants and five civilians were also killed in the attack, bringing the Palestinian death toll to 31 since the start of the Israeli offensive on Friday.
Among the dead were six children and four women. The Palestinian Health Ministry said more than 250 people had been injured since Friday.
Israel said some of the deaths were caused by stray rocket fire, including an incident in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza in which six Palestinians were killed on Saturday.
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.
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.
“Suddenly, without warning, the house next to us was bombed and everything went black and dusty with smoke in the blink of an eye,” said Wissam Jouda, who lives next to the targeted building.
Ahmed al-Qaissi, another neighbor, said his wife and son were among the injured, injured by shrapnel. To make room for rescuers, he agreed to have part of his house demolished.
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, he said the military would continue to strike targets in Gaza “in a precise and responsible manner in order to minimize harm to non-combatants.”
He added that the strike that killed Mansour was “an extraordinary achievement”.
“The operation will continue for as long as necessary,” he said.
Israel estimates that its airstrikes killed around 15 militants.
Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas, and little is known about its arsenal of weapons. Both groups call for the destruction of Israel, but have different priorities, with Hamas constrained by government demands.
The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired 580 rockets into Israel. The army said its air defenses intercepted many of them, and two of those shot down were fired towards Jerusalem.