Israel killed two senior Islamic Jihad commanders in Gaza strikes on Thursday, pressing an operation that has cost 26 lives including Palestinian women and children and been met with hundreds of rockets fired from the enclave.
Egypt hosted senior Islamic Jihad official Mohammad al-Hindi in Cairo, part of truce talks to end a flare-up now in its third day, two faction officials and a foreign diplomat told Reuters.
“Egypt’s efforts to calm things down and resume the political process have not yet borne fruit,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters in Berlin.
The deaths of Ali Ghali, head of Islamic Jihad’s rocket force, and of Ahmed Abu Daqqa, a senior commander of its armed wing, brought to five the number of senior figures from the faction killed since Israel began striking Gaza on Tuesday.
The death toll includes at least four women and six children.
The military said Ghali and Abu Daqqa helped oversee rocket launches towards Israel over recent days as well as in previous rounds of fighting with Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed group allied with Hamas, which rules the blockaded enclave.
Sirens sent residents to shelters in Israeli towns around Gaza as Iron Dome interceptors shot down some incoming rockets.
Signalling the fighting could continue and even escalate, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said he had given orders “to prepare additional actions and maintain readiness for the possibility of increased fire.”
Israeli jets hit targets including a mortar post in the northern part of the enclave and an operational room for directing anti-tank missiles.
The military said it had attacked 158 targets in Gaza as of Thursday morning while at least 523 rockets were launched towards Israel this week, 380 crossed the border. Iron Dome and David’s Sling interceptors had a 96% shootdown rate, it said.
It said more than 100 rockets — many of them improvised — had misfired, killing four Palestinians, including a 10-year-old girl. Islamic Jihad said that was “completely incorrect.”
“Once again Israel tries to escape its responsibility for the killing of civilians through fabrications and lies,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Dawoud Shehab said.
After more than a year of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has killed more than 100 Palestinians and at least 19 Israelis and foreigners since January, the latest escalation drew international calls for a ceasefire.
Egypt’s Shoukry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi met their French and German counterparts in Berlin on Thursday to discuss peace efforts.
Shoukry called on “peace-sponsoring countries to intervene and stop the attacks” and said Israel must “stop the unilateral measures that aim to destroy the future of the Palestinian state”.
However, Israel rejected demands from Islamic Jihad that it ends its policy of targeted killings of the group’s leaders.
“We are not willing to accept delusional demands from the Islamic Jihad,” said Yuli Edelstein, head of parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, on Kan radio.
“Every now and then, we have to initiate action and this is exactly what the IDF and the Shin Bet (intelligence agency) did very successfully this time.”
‘WE CAN’T SLEEP AT NIGHT’
Both in blockaded Gaza, where residents have been experiencing decades of a worsening humanitarian crisis, and in surrounding Israeli towns, schools and businesses remained shut.
Hundreds joined the funeral procession of Ghali and his brother, who was also killed overnight, chanting as they carried flags and as gunmen fired into the air.
“We can’t sleep at night because we worry about bombardment,” said Mohammad Abu el-Subbah, 24, standing outside a bakery in Gaza City. “People have no clue what will happen next, whether there will be a truce or whether the war will continue.”
At least 80 people were wounded in the airstrikes that destroyed five buildings and damaged more than 300 apartments, said Salama Marouf, chairman of the Hamas media office.
Israel has kept crossings for the movement of people and goods closed since Tuesday. Israeli authorities estimated that between 30% and 60% of communities around Gaza have evacuated as a precaution. On Wednesday, sirens sounded as far as the commercial capital Tel Aviv, 60 km (37 miles) north of Gaza.
Israeli forces also conducted raids in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian health ministry said a 30-year-old man died after being shot in the town of Qabatiya on Wednesday.
Israel captured Gaza and the West Bank, areas Palestinians want for an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital, in a 1967 war. Israeli forces and settlers withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Statehood talks have been frozen since 2014.
Copyright 2023 Thompson/Reuters