TEL AVIV – Rockets landed near West Jerusalem on Sunday after the Israeli army killed the second top commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement in three days.
Khaled Mansour was killed in an air strike in the southern Gaza Strip late Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces announced in a statement on Sunday. She added that two other elements were also killed, one of whom was Mansour’s deputy.
Saraya al-Quds, the military wing of Iran-backed Islamic Jihad, later confirmed his death in a statement it said would ignite the battle to defend Jerusalem. The statement also said that two other of its members, Ziyad Ahmed Al Mudallal and Raafat Saleh Sheikh Al Eid, were also killed.
This is the second targeted attack of its kind to Israel since it launched its high-risk military offensive against the militant group on Friday. Both Israel and the armed group confirmed that Taysir al-Jabari, a senior officer in the Islamic Jihad branch in northern Gaza, was also killed on Friday.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health announced in a statement on Sunday that five civilians were killed on Sunday, bringing the death toll to 31 since the Israeli offensive began on Friday.
She added that among the dead were six children and four women, adding that more than 250 people were injured.
The Israeli military said in a statement on Saturday that a rocket fired from Gaza was responsible for the deaths of at least four children after it hit a Palestinian home in the Jabalia refugee camp. The Health Ministry said six people were killed in Jabalia.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement on Sunday that the operation would continue “for as long as necessary,” adding that his army was acting in a “accurate and responsible manner,” with minimal harm to civilians.
The latest round of violence is seen by some as a real test for Lapid, who took over as caretaker prime minister in June after the eight-party coalition of his predecessor Naftali Bennett collapsed. The next elections are scheduled for November.
Lapid’s comments came after sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area on Sunday for the first time since the war between Israel and Hamas last year.
In a separate press release Sunday, the Israeli military said that more than 97% of the missiles launched were downed by the Iron Dome air defense system.
So far, Hamas, which rules Gaza, appears to be on the fringes of the current conflict. But she praised Mansour in Sunday’s statement, calling him and other Islamic Jihad members “martyrs.”
Hamas is larger than Islamic Jihad, but it shares many key demands and ideologies, including a refusal to recognize the existence of the State of Israel.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the past fifteen years. Hamas has a strong incentive to avoid another war, as last year’s conflict took a heavy toll on the impoverished region’s 2.3 million residents.
Since the last war, Israel and Hamas have reached a tacit understanding based on trade calm in exchange for work permits and a slight easing of the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas swept the region 15 years ago.
On the other hand, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a telephone conversation with Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz on Saturday, reiterated US support for Israel and its right to defend itself, while urging steps to stop the escalation. He also said he was concerned about reports of civilian deaths, and called for a “comprehensive and timely” investigation.
Paul Goldman reports from Tel Aviv and Mithyl Agarwal from Hong Kong.
Reuters And the News agency Contributed.