A senior commander of a Palestinian armed group and six children have been killed in the Gaza Strip as Israeli jets continued their bombing of the besieged enclave.
In a statement on Sunday, Islamic Jihad confirmed that Khaled Mansour, its commander in the south of the Gaza Strip, had been killed in an Israeli raid on Saturday.
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Mansour is the second high-ranking member of Islamic Jihad to be killed since Israel began attacking Gaza on Friday, when it assassinated the group’s commander in the north, Taysir al-Jabari.
Mansour was in the apartment of a member of the group when the missile struck, flattening the three-story building and badly damaging nearby houses.
“Suddenly, without warning, the house next to us was bombed and everything became black and dusty with smoke in the blink of an eye,” said Wissam Jouda, who lives next to the targeted building.
Ahmed al-Qaissi, another neighbor, said his wife and son were among the wounded, suffering shrapnel injuries. To make way for rescue workers, al-Qaissi agreed to have part of his house demolished.
As a funeral for Mansour began in the Gaza Strip on Sunday afternoon, the Israeli military said it was striking suspected “Islamic Jihad rocket launch posts.” Smoke could be seen from the strikes as thumps from their explosions rattled Gaza. Israeli airstrikes and rocket fire followed for hours as sirens wailed in central Israel.
Israel has warned that its campaign against Islamic Jihad could last a week, and its attacks on Gaza have destroyed apartment buildings and struck refugee camps.
At least four children were killed in a blast close to the Jabaliya refugee camp on Saturday, according to Hamas, the group that governs the Gaza Strip. It blamed Israel for the deaths, but the military denied any responsibility, saying the explosion was caused by a failed rocket launched by Islamic Jihad.
Al Jazeera could not verify the claims immediately.
The latest deaths bring the tally of children killed since Friday to six, and the total death toll among Palestinians to 31.
More than 260 people have also been wounded, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza.
Palestinian fighters have responded to the bombings by launching more than 400 rockets at Israel. Most of the rockets were intercepted, and there have been no reports of serious casualties, according to the Israeli ambulance service.
The violence has raised fears of another war on Gaza by Israel, just 15 months after a monthlong conflict that killed more than 260 people.
“The last war caused widespread devastation here in the Gaza Strip. A year later, there has been almost no reconstruction,” Al Jazeera’s Youmna ElSayed said, reporting from Gaza City. “This isolated coastal territory is impoverished, its people are barely recovering. And many fear another round of escalation.”
About 2.3 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal Gaza Strip, with Israel and Egypt tightly restricting the movement of people and goods in and out of the enclave and imposing a naval blockade, citing security concerns.
Israel stopped the planned transport of fuel into Gaza shortly before it launched its attacks on Friday, crippling the territory’s lone power plant and reducing electricity to about four hours per day and drawing warnings from health officials that hospitals would be severely affected within days.
“[The Israelis] are attacking civilians, they are attacking premises, residential areas. Nobody knows what will happen in the coming hours,” said Dr Medhat Abbas, director at the Gaza health ministry.
“This is an appeal to extend a helping hand to the ministry of health in Gaza Strip right now. There’s a shortage of electricity. It’s been declared now that it will only be four hours a day. This means we will rely in the hospitals on generators. Generators consume half a million litres every month. We do not have this fuel right now.”
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said Cairo is talking “around the clock” with both sides to ease the violence.
An Egyptian intelligence delegation headed by Major General Ahmed Abdelkhaliq arrived in Israel on Saturday and would be travelling to Gaza for mediation talks, two Egyptian security sources told the Reuters news agency. They were hoping to secure a day’s ceasefire in order to carry out the talks, the sources added.
“Intensive efforts have been made this evening and the movement listened to the mediators, but these efforts haven’t reached an agreement yet,” an Islamic Jihad official told Reuters late on Saturday.
The latest round of tensions began earlier this week after Israeli forces arrested Bassam al-Saadi, an Islamic Jihad commander in the occupied West Bank. Al-Saadi was arrested during an Israeli raid in the city of Jenin, during which a teenager was killed. Israeli forces then sealed roads around the Gaza Strip and on Friday bombed an apartment building in the centre of Gaza City, killing al-Jabari, Islamic Jihad’s northern commander, and at least nine others, including a five-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman.
The Israeli military also said it had arrested 19 more members of Islamic Jihad in the West Bank on Saturday.
Islamic Jihad is aligned with the governing Hamas, but often acts independently.
A further escalation of the violence could depend on whether Hamas would opt to join the fighting alongside Islamic Jihad.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum has said “the Israeli enemy, which started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it”.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority has also condemned the Israeli attacks.
The violence poses an early test for Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker leader ahead of elections in November, when he hopes to keep the top job.
Lapid, a centrist former TV host and author, has experience in diplomacy having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has thin security credentials. A conflict with Gaza could burnish his standing and give him a boost as he faces off against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country during three of its four wars with Hamas.
The United States said on Saturday that it fully supported Israel’s right to defend itself and urged all sides to avoid further escalation, while Iran, which backs Islamic Jihad, said Israel will “pay a heavy price” for the latest attacks.
United Nations and European Union Middle East envoys have also expressed concern about the violence.