TEL AVIV – Missiles crashed near West Jerusalem on Sunday after the Israeli army killed the second senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group in three days.
Khaled Mansour was killed in an airstrike in southern Gaza late Saturday, the Israeli Defense Forces or IDF said in a statement on Sunday. It added that two other officers, including Mansour’s deputy, were also killed.
The Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad group, later confirmed his death in a statement saying it would “ignite the battle to defend Jerusalem.” The statement also said two other members, Ziyad Ahmad al-Mudallal and Raafat Saleh Sheikh al-Eid, had also been killed.
It was Israel’s second such targeted attack since it launched its high-stakes military offensive against the militant group on Friday. Taiser al-Jabari, the top commander of the northern Gaza division of Islamic Jihad, was also killed on Friday, both Israel and the militant group confirmed.
Five civilians were also killed on Sunday, bringing the death toll to 31 since the Israeli offensive began on Friday, the Palestinian health ministry said in a statement Sunday.
Six children and four women were among the dead, it said, adding that more than 250 people had been injured.
The IDF 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 Jebaliya refugee camp. The health ministry said six people were killed in Jebaliya.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement on Sunday that the operation would continue “as long as necessary”, adding that his military acted in a “accurate and responsible manner”, with minimal damage to civilians.
The latest round of violence is seen by some as a litmus test for Lapid, who took on the role of interim 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 air-raid sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area for the first time since last year’s Israel-Hamas war on Sunday.
In a separate press release on Sunday, the IDF said more than 97% of missiles launched were shot down by the Iron Dome Aerial Defense System.
So far, Hamas, which rules Gaza, appears to be on the sidelines of the current conflict. But it did pay tribute to Mansour in a statement Sunday, describing him and the other dead members of Islamic Jihad as “martyrs.”
Hamas is bigger than Islamic Jihad, but it shares many important demands and ideologies, including a refusal to recognize the existence of the State of Israel.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several minor battles in the past 15 years. Hamas has a strong incentive to avoid another war as last year’s conflict took a dizzying toll on the impoverished area’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents.
Since the last war, Israel and Hamas have reached a tacit agreement based on calm exchanges for work permits and a slight easing of the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas conquered the area 15 years ago.
Elsewhere, in a meeting with Israeli Defense Secretary Benjamin Gantz on Saturday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reiterated US support for Israel and its right to defend itself, while pushing for de-escalation steps. He also said he was concerned about reports of civilian deaths and called for “a timely and thorough” investigation.
Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv and Mithil Aggarwal from Hong Kong.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed.