Militants fire rockets at Jerusalem, as the toll rises in Gaza
By Isabel Kershner
An Egyptian delegation arrived in Gaza on Sunday, raising hopes for a cease-fire that could end three days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants that has left at least 36 Palestinians dead.
Egyptian-mediated talks were advancing, even as Islamic Jihad militants continued to aim rockets at Israeli territory and the Israeli military said it continued to strike the group’s rocket-launching sites. Earlier Sunday, Islamic Jihad fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem as hundreds of Orthodox Jews visited a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews; no casualties were reported.
The latest round of cross-border attacks began Friday with Israeli strikes against the Gaza-based militant group. Two senior militant commanders have been killed in the attacks. But Islamic Jihad continued to fire rockets, both at closer range, aimed at Israeli territory along the Gaza border, and, much farther afield, toward the southern suburbs of Tel Aviv.
Most of the rockets launched by the militants over the past two days have been ineffective, with the vast majority either intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system or falling in open areas, according to the Israeli military. The militants have fired about 700 rockets at Israel, causing widespread panic, paralyzing daily life in the border areas and sending hundreds of thousands of residents fleeing for bomb shelters.
Israel had pounded the blockaded and impoverished coastal enclave of Gaza with air and artillery strikes Friday and Saturday, saying it was attacking Islamic Jihad military targets, including some located in residential buildings.
In Gaza, residents emerged after a night of bloodshed amid what has become the most violent conflagration between Israel and Gaza militants in more than a year.
At least 36 people have been killed so far in Gaza, according to the Health Ministry there, and 311 have been injured. Eleven children were among the dead, the ministry said Sunday.
Israel said some of those children were killed Saturday night when an Islamic Jihad rocket misfired and fell short in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israeli military said it had not been operating in that area at the time. Islamic Jihad has not commented on the Israeli claim.
Israel’s military also chalked up what Israeli officials and analysts hailed as an important operational success Saturday night with the killing of Khaled Mansour, a senior Islamic Jihad commander responsible for the southern region of Gaza.
Islamic Jihad confirmed the commander’s death early Sunday. His body was found under the rubble of a building in a residential area along with the bodies of two more militants and five civilians, including a child.
“We affirm that the blood of the martyrs will not be spilled in vain,” the military wing of Islamic Jihad said in a statement, adding that Mansour’s death “will ignite the battle to defend Jerusalem and the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque,” referring to the holy site in the city that Jews revere as the Temple Mount.
Mansour’s death came a day after Israeli strikes killed the military commander of Islamic Jihad’s northern region, Taiseer al-Jabari. Earlier in the week, Israel had arrested a senior figure from the group in the West Bank, leading to threats of reprisals. Israel said its initial airstrikes were preemptive, aimed at stopping Islamic Jihad from following through on those threats.
Hamas, the much larger Islamic militant group that dominates in Gaza, has so far stayed out of the fighting, a factor that could limit the scope and duration of the conflict.
The last major Gaza conflagration, fought over 11 days in May 2021, began after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem following days of Israeli-Palestinian confrontations there.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said Sunday that “quiet will be answered with quiet, but if they keep firing we will keep acting,” repeating a position Israel has articulated many times before as it tried to wind down past campaigns in Gaza.