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Israel kills second militant leader in Gaza; rockets target Jerusalem

Aug. 7, 2022 Updated Sun., Aug. 7, 2022 at 9:53 a.m.

People run for cover during Israeli aerial bombardment in Gaza City on Saturday.  (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)
People run for cover during Israeli aerial bombardment in Gaza City on Saturday. (TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE)
By Shira Rubin,Steve Hendrix and Hazem Balousha The Washington Post

TEL AVIV - Palestinian militants fired rockets toward Jerusalem Sunday morning after overnight Israeli air strikes killed a senior militant leader in Gaza, the second since the start of the operation. The escalation threatens to push the bout of violence that has already killed at least 31 in Gaza and sent thousands of Israelis running to shelters into an all-out war.

The Israeli military and domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet killed Khaled Mansour, the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s (PIJ) operations in the south of Gaza, in an air strike late Saturday night on a house in Rafah. Israel said that Mansour, who has survived at least five other assassination attempts, was responsible for dozens of terror attacks against Israelis.

His killing follows a similar air strike against Tayseer Jabari, the chief of PIJ’s operations in the north of Gaza, on Friday. PIJ has since responded with nearly 600 rockets toward Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv, Israel’s financial capital, and dozens of southern towns surrounding the Gaza Strip. Jerusalem was targeted by PIJ rockets on Sunday for the first time since the start of the military operation.

Israel’s military “continues to strike terrorist targets and operatives, and to thwart rocket-launching squads,” said Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday morning in a statement. “This operation will continue as long as necessary.”

Israeli and Palestinian diplomats said on Sunday afternoon that talks for a ceasefire, through both Egyptian and Qatari backchannels, were underway.

The rockets targeting Jerusalem come as religious Jews mark the holiday of Tisha B’av, during which hundreds of Jews are expected to ascend a contested holy site known as the Temple Mount by Jews and as the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims.

The elevated esplanade is officially managed by Jordanian authorities, which ban non-Muslim prayer atop the site, though the policy that has been increasingly violated in recent years by a rise in politically active Jewish worshippers. Clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian demonstrators at and around the flashpoint site led to an 11-day war in May 2021 that killed more than 200 in Gaza and 12 people in Israel.

Firebrand politician Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of a far-right movement and advocate for allowing prayer for visitors of all religions at the Temple Mount, visited on Sunday morning, flanked by police, and shouted, “The nation of Israel lives!” Palestinians around him rebutted, “God is great!”

“We will never surrender, not to the missiles, not to the threats of the terrorists and not to those of us who attack me,” tweeted Ben Gvir with a photo of his son on the Temple Mount.

The Israeli army said that it had struck 139 Islamic Jihad targets and “neutralized” the top brass and targets including tunnels used by militants to carry out attacks, weapons storage facilities and launch pits belonging to both the Northern and Southern PIJ Commands.

The Palestinian death toll stood at 31, including 6 children, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

There have been no reported casualties in Israel, where the Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted approximately 97% of the some 470 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel since Friday, according to the Israeli military. It said that some 20% have misfired and landed in Gaza.

In the refugee camp of Jabaliya, in the northern Gaza Strip, an explosion on Saturday night killed at least four children. The Israeli military, which shared its own satellite footage of rocket fire from the Strip, said that the fatalities were the result of a failed PIJ rocket launch and that it did not conduct an airstrike at the time of the blast. It said that it was still investigating the circumstances of an additional explosion in Jabaliya on Sunday morning.

Gaza Ministry of Interior spokesman Eyad Al Bozom said that Israel “bears full responsibility for this crime and all the crimes it commits during its brutal aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip.”

Muhammad Abu Qaida, from Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, said that his cousin, Naama Abu Qaida, 56, was among those killed as she and her family were in a parked car near their home, heading to her daughter’s wedding, scheduled before the start of the operation. Of Abu Qaida’s six children and grandchildren, two were taken to the hospital in critical condition.

“We did not expect anything to happen in the area and there was nothing fired from the area,” said Muhammad Abu Qaida. “It is hundreds of meters away from the Erez Crossing and is exposed to Israel.”

A United Nations delegation from the United Arab Emirates, which serves as the representatives of Arab countries in the international body and has also been expanding ties with Israel in recent years, formally filed a motion to convene the Security Council on behalf of the Palestinians.

The operation, codenamed “Breaking Dawn” by the Israeli military, comes just over a year since the the May, 2021 war in Gaza, which Israel fought against Hamas.

The hostilities are the most serious since then, and began last week when Israel arrested the PIJ leader in the West Bank, Bassem al-Saadi, as part of an ongoing series of raids that followed a wave of attacks by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians last spring.

A senior Israeli official, speaking under condition of anonymity due to the sensitive security situation, said on Sunday that Israeli security forces arrested 20 PIJ operatives in overnight raids in the West Bank, in addition to 19 from the previous night.

Over the three days of fighting, Hamas has not taken responsibility for the projectiles fired at Israel. Though Israel holds it responsible for all activity in the Gaza Strip, Israeli analysts say that Hamas involvement in this operation would elevate its scope.

Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh said that “intensive efforts with all parties” were underway.

A Middle East official said that “talks are underway with Egypt to reach a ceasefire,” speaking under condition of anonymity due to the fragility of the mediation.

A senior Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the security situation said that Israel was prepared to open humanitarian corridors, fuel for generators and hospital supplies as soon as rockets stop. “Quiet will be answered with quiet,” he said. “Once the Islamic Jihad stop firing and Hamas gets a handle on things, it could happen very quickly.”

Balousha contributed from Gaza City. The Washington Post’s Miriam Berger contributed from Jerusalem.

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