JERUSALEM — An Egyptian delegation arrived in Gaza on Sunday, raising hopes for a ceasefire that could end three days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants that left at least 36 Palestinians dead.
Egyptian-mediated talks were progressing, even as Islamic Jihad militants continued to fire rockets into Israeli territory and the Israeli military said it continued to strike at the group’s rocket launch sites. Earlier Sunday, Islamic Jihad fired a barrage of rockets into 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 on Friday with Israeli strikes against the Gaza-based militant group. Two senior militant commanders were killed in the attacks. But Islamic Jihad continued to fire rockets, both at close range, targeting Israeli territory along the Gaza border, and much further afield at the southern suburbs of Tel Aviv.
Most rockets launched by 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 IDF. Militants fired around 700 rockets into Israel, causing widespread panic, paralyzing daily life in border areas and causing hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to bomb shelters.
Israel pounded the blockaded and impoverished coastal enclave of Gaza with air and artillery strikes on 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, and 311 have been injured. Eleven children were among the dead, the ministry said on Sunday.
Israel said some of those children were killed on Saturday night when an Islamic Jihad rocket misfired and fell short in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israeli army said it was not operating in this area at the time. Islamic Jihad has not commented on the Israeli claim.
The IDF also noted what Israeli officials and analysts on Saturday night hailed as a significant operational success with the killing of Khaled Mansour, a senior Islamic Jihad commander responsible for the southern Gaza region.
Islamic Jihad confirmed the death of the commander on Sunday. His body was found under the rubble of a building in a residential area along with the bodies of two other activists and five civilians, including a child.
“We affirm that the blood of martyrs will not be shed in vain,” the armed wing of Islamic Jihad said in a statement, adding that Mr. Mansour’s death “will spark the battle to defend Jerusalem and the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque.” ,” referring to the city’s holy site that Jews revere as the Temple Mount.
Mr Mansour’s death came a day after Israeli strikes killed Islamic Jihad’s northern region military commander, Taysir al-Jabari. Earlier in the week, Israel arrested a senior member of the group in the West Bank, prompting threats of retaliation. Israel said its initial airstrikes were pre-emptive, aimed at preventing Islamic Jihad from following up on those threats.
Hamas, the much larger Islamic militant group that dominates Gaza, has so far stayed away from the fighting, a factor that could limit the extent and duration of the conflict.
The latest major conflagration in Gaza, waged over 11 days in May 2021, began after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets into Jerusalem following days of Israeli-Palestinian clashes.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, spokesman for the Israeli army, said on Sunday that “silence will be answered with silence, but if they keep firing, we will continue to act”, repeating a position that Israel expressed many times before as he tried to end past campaigns in Gaza.
Iyad Abuheweila, Gabby Sobelman and Fady Hanona contributed reporting.