Israeli airstrike kills 2nd top Islamic Jihad commander

Source: Associated Press

An Israeli airstrike killed a senior commander in the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, authorities said Sunday, its second leader to be slain amid an escalating cross-border conflict.

The killing late Saturday (local time) 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. Already, the fighting has killed at least 29 Palestinians and seen hundreds of rockets fired toward Israel in the worst violence between Israel and Palestinian militants since the end of an 11-day war in 2021.

Meanwhile, tensions could escalate as Jews mark a holy day that will see ultranationalist Israeli lawmakers visit a sensitive holy site in Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Such visits can be a frequent flashpoint for violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

READ MORE: Israel, militants trade fire as Gaza death toll climbs to 24

The Al-Quds Brigades of Islamic Jihad confirmed Sunday that the airstrike in the southern Gaza city of Rafah killed Mansour and two fellow militants. The militants said the strike also killed civilians as it flattened several homes.

The Israeli government also said its forces killed Mansour in the strike, which it described as a joint operation between its military and intelligence agencies approved by the country's political leaders.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the army would continue to strike targets in the Gaza Strip “in a pinpoint and responsible way in order to reduce to a minimum the harm to noncombatants." Lapid, a caretaker premier until Israeli elections in November, called the strike “an extraordinary achievement.”

“The operation will continue as long as necessary,” Lapid said in a statement.

On Sunday, Gaza’s Health Ministry said 29 people had been killed in the fighting so far in the coastal strip, including six children and four women. It said at least 253 people had been wounded.

Israel estimates its airstrikes have killed about 15 militants. Meanwhile, the Israeli army said militants in Gaza had fired some 580 rockets toward Israel. The army said its air defences had intercepted many of them, with two of those shot down being fired toward Jerusalem.

Militants from Islamic Jihad continued firing rockets toward Israel and the Israeli military continued airstrikes on Gaza, though the intensity of the exchange appeared to decrease early Sunday. Air raid sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area for the first time Sunday since last year’s war between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

On Sunday, Jews marked Tisha B’av, a sombre day of fasting that marks the destruction of the biblical temples and brings thousands to Jerusalem for prayer. By early morning, Israeli police said several hundred Jews had already ascended the Temple Mount or Noble Sanctuary.

Police described the situation as calm as Jews held prayers at the Western Wall, which is considered the holiest site where Jews can pray.

In Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank, Israeli security forces said they detained some 19 people on suspicion of belonging to the Islamic Jihad during overnight raids. Israeli forces said their troops suffered no injuries in the raids, which saw them use “riot dispersal methods” as Palestinians threw rocks and improvised bombs, as well as a shot at their forces.

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.

The Israeli military said an errant rocket fired by Palestinian militants killed civilians, including children, late Saturday in the town of Jabaliya, in northern Gaza. The military said it investigated the incident and concluded “without a doubt” that it was caused by a misfire on the part of Islamic Jihad. There was no official Palestinian comment on the incident.

A Palestinian medical worker who spoke on condition of anonymity as they had not been granted permission to speak to journalists said the blast killed at least six people, including three children.

Israeli airstrikes Saturday killed a 75-year-old woman and wounded six others as they were preparing to go to a wedding. Airstrikes have also destroyed several houses in the Gaza Strip, some of them belonging to Islamic Jihad members.

The lone power plant in Gaza ground to a halt at noon Saturday due to a lack of fuel. Israel has kept its crossing points into Gaza closed since Tuesday. With the new disruption, Gazans can use only four hours of electricity a day, increasing their reliance on private generators and deepening the territory’s chronic power crisis amid the peak summer heat.