- Written by David Gretten and Rushdi Abu Alouf
- BBC News, in London and Gaza City
The Israeli military killed the commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s rocket-launching force in a pre-dawn airstrike on an apartment in Gaza.
Two other people, who the army said were gunmen, were killed in the attack in the southern city of Khan Younis.
Sirens were later heard in southern Israel, while about 10 mortar shells were fired from Gaza. There were no reports of injuries.
On Wednesday, militants fired 507 rockets and mortars at Israel, and Israel bombed 158 Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza.
Twenty-five people have been killed and 76 wounded in Gaza since Tuesday morning, when Israel launched its operation against the Palestinian Islamic Jihad with a series of strikes that killed three more of its commanders, according to health officials there.
At least 10 civilians were among the dead, which the United Nations has called unacceptable.
The Israeli military said four people, including three children, were killed in Gaza by missiles that failed on Wednesday, though this was not confirmed by Palestinian sources.
Islamic Jihad said the allegations were “completely untrue” and accused Israel of trying to evade responsibility for their deaths.
There have been no deaths in Israel, though several people were injured as they ran to shelters, according to local health officials.
An early morning Israeli airstrike in Khan Yunis destroyed an apartment on top of a six-storey building and damaged the apartment below.
The military wing of the Islamic Jihad in Palestine confirmed the killing of the commander of its missile unit, Ali Hassan Ghali, also known as Abu Muhammad, in the attack, which he described as a “treacherous Zionist assassination.”
The Palestinian Health Ministry said three were killed and seven wounded. Palestinian media reported that the other two dead were Ghali’s brother and nephew.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad is the second-largest armed group in Gaza after Hamas, which controls the enclave, and has been responsible for several rocket attacks on Israel in recent years.
The Israeli army confirmed that it targeted Ghali and what it called “other activists from the Islamic Jihad movement in Gaza.”
It described the commander as a central figure in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who was “responsible for the recent rocket barrage against Israel”.
Later Thursday morning, Gaza militants fired about 10 mortar shells at Israeli towns in the southern Eshkol Regional Council, local officials said, adding that none landed in populated areas.
Some of the rockets and mortars hit homes and buildings, but most landed in open areas or were intercepted.
The Israeli Magen David Adom ambulance service said it had treated 32 people as of Thursday morning, including 15 who were injured while fleeing to shelters and 17 who suffered severe anxiety, according to Israeli media.
On Wednesday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the Israeli crackdown was far from over.
“We have hit Islamic Jihad with the biggest blow it has ever dealt,” he said, referring to the killing of three Islamic Jihad commanders on Tuesday and the targeting of dozens of the group’s rocket and mortar launch sites.
The Islamic Jihad movement threatened dark days to come if “Israel increases its aggression.”
A spokeswoman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was following with deep concern developments in Gaza and “condemns the loss of civilian life, including children and women, which he considers unacceptable.”
“The Secretary-General urges all parties concerned to exercise maximum restraint and work for the immediate cessation of hostilities,” she added.
Egypt is trying to secure a cease-fire between the two sides.
On Wednesday, Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, said he was “evaluating” a proposal from Cairo. It was reported that the Palestinian factions want Israel to agree to stop what they call “targeted assassinations”.
The fighting this week is the fiercest since the three days of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad last August, in which 49 Palestinians were killed in Gaza.
There was a serious escalation last week, as Islamic Jihad and other groups fired more than 100 rockets into Israel over two days, following the death of a Palestinian hunger striker in an Israeli prison. The Israeli army responded with air strikes on sites it said were linked to Hamas.
Tensions also remained high in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday after Israel carried out raids.
Israeli forces killed three Palestinians in the town of Qabatiya and said the three were shot. An Israeli soldier was seriously wounded during a separate exchange of fire with armed Palestinians in Tubas.
Additional reporting by Antoinette Radford in London
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