After the militant organization Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of projectiles at Israel, Israeli forces stepped up its campaign of killing top commanders of the group in airstrikes.
The Israeli military and Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group in Gaza, traded fire Thursday amid mounting tensions in the region as Israel stepped up its campaign of targeted assassinations of Islamic Jihad commanders, killing two more to take the toll to five in three days.
While an effort by Egypt and other regional powers to convince the two sides to agree to a cease-fire was underway Thursday, Islamic Jihad fired rockets and mortar rounds into Israel, and Israeli forces struck against what they said were military targets linked to the group in Gaza.
An Islamic Jihad commander was killed in an Israeli missile strike on his home in Gaza on Thursday afternoon, an attack that followed the targeted assassination of a militant commander overnight, the Israeli military said. A rocket fired from Gaza in the evening struck a residential building in Rehovot, a city in central Israel. One man was killed in that attack. He was the first casualty on the Israeli side in this round of fighting.
The cross-border exchanges started out less intense than on Wednesday, when Islamic Jihad fired more than 500 rockets and mortar shells toward Israel, according to the Israeli military, while Israel carried out airstrikes against what the military described as 150 targets linked to the militant group in Gaza.
The rockets and mortar shells fired out of Gaza on Thursday were at first of shorter range and mostly aimed at areas of Israel close to the border with Gaza.
But by evening, Islamic Jihad was firing longer-range rockets in apparent retaliation for Israel’s latest targeted assassinations. In addition to the fatality in Rehovot, five more people were injured in that rocket attack, according to Israel’s ambulance service. The powerful blast severely damaged apartments on three floors of the building, sending shreds of contorted metal window frames and shattered glass onto the road.
The sides had seemed close to a cease-fire on Wednesday night, but the Egyptian-led mediation efforts appeared to shift into a lower gear as the fighting surged again on Thursday. Islamic Jihad has presented several conditions for a cease-fire, including an Israeli commitment to halt assassinations.
No such commitment seemed imminent on Thursday. Israeli officials said that fire would be met by fire.
“Whoever harms us will pay the price, as will his replacement,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said during a visit on Thursday to an air defense battalion. “We are in the midst of a campaign of both offense and defense,” he added.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief spokesman of the Israeli military, said that the difficulty in reaching a cease-fire was partly because the agenda was being set by exiled leaders of Islamic Jihad “who are living in Beirut and Damascus in hotels and driving Mercedes,” and by their patron, Iran.
The Israeli military said that it had carried out two targeted assassinations on Thursday. The first, shortly before 2 a.m. on Thursday, killed Ali Ghali, a member of the military council of Islamic Jihad and the commander in Gaza of the group’s rocket launching force. The Israeli military described the second Islamic Jihad commander killed, on Thursday afternoon, as Mr. Ghali’s deputy.
Mr. Ghali was killed in the city of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza along with two other men. Both the Israeli military and Islamic Jihad confirmed Mr. Ghali’s death. Islamic Jihad identified the two other fatalities as Mr. Ghali’s brother and nephew. The Israeli military described them as also being Islamic Jihad operatives.
Images from the scene showed that the Israeli strike had destroyed the apartment the three men were in on the top floor of a residential building.
“The enemy continues its crimes against those who are safe in their homes, and it will pay the price for that,” Islamic Jihad said in a statement on Thursday, referring to Israel’s actions, adding, “The policy of assassination by bombing residential buildings will not give the enemy victory, and the upcoming strikes will reveal its weakness and impotence.”
Israeli officials said that the man killed on Thursday afternoon was Ahmed Abu Daqqa, another senior member of Islamic Jihad’s rocket launching force, who they said had been responsible for the projectiles fired at Israel over the past few days. The military wing of Islamic Jihad confirmed the death of Mr. Abu Daqqa, who was also killed in Khan Yunis.
Hamas, the larger Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, praised the strike against Rehovot. Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official, described it as retaliation for the assassination of the two Islamic Jihad commanders on Thursday and for other Israeli “crimes.” Hamas has voiced its support for Islamic Jihad’s actions but has not actively joined in the rocket launching itself, according to Israeli military officials, a factor that could limit the scope of hostilities.
The latest round of fighting, Israel’s third confrontation with Islamic Jihad in Gaza in 10 months, began with an attack by Israel on Tuesday that killed three of the militant group’s top commanders, along with 10 civilians, four of them children, according to Palestinian officials.
At least 29 Palestinians have been killed since the hostilities began on Tuesday, six of them children, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The ministry said that more than 90 Palestinians had also been injured.
The Israeli military said that approximately a quarter of the rockets fired on Wednesday by Islamic Jihad had failed and had fallen within Palestinian territory. Israeli officials said that four of the Palestinian fatalities on Wednesday, including a 10-year-old child, had been killed by two of the misfired rockets.
Millions of Israelis in areas within range of the rocket fire have been instructed to stay close to safe rooms and shelters. Israel’s air defense systems intercepted most of the other rockets that appeared headed toward population centers, though a few slipped through and caused damage to several houses.
Reporting was contributed by Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza City, Myra Noveck and Hiba Yazbek from Jerusalem, and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.