Rockets fire after Israeli airstrike kills senior Islamic Jihad commander

Rockets fire after Israeli airstrike kills senior Islamic Jihad commander

TEL AVIV - Rockets rained down near West Jerusalem Sunday after Israel's military killed the second senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group in three days.

Khaled Mansour was killed in an airstrike in southern Gaza late Saturday, the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, said in a statement Sunday. It added that two other operatives, including Mansour's deputy, were also killed.

The Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad group, later confirmed his death in a statement that said it would ignite the battle to defend Jerusalem. The statement said two more of its members, Ziyad Ahmad al-Mudallal and Raafat Saleh Sheikh al-Eid, had also been killed.

Israel launched a high-stakes military offensive against the militant group on Friday, its second targeted attack since it launched its high-stakes military offensive. Taiseer al-Jabari, the senior commanding officer of Islamic Jihad's northern Gaza division, was killed Friday, both Israel and the militant group confirmed.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said that there were five civilians killed Sunday, bringing the death toll to 31 since the start of the Israeli offensive on Friday.

More than 250 people were wounded, it said, adding that six children and four women were among the dead.

The IDF said Saturday that a rocket fired from Gaza was responsible for the deaths of at least four children after it hit a Palestinian home in the Jebaliya refugee camp. Six people were killed in Jebaliya, according to the Health Ministry.

Israel's prime minister Yair Lapid said in a statement Sunday that the operation would continue as long as necessary, adding that his military was acting in a precise and responsible way, with minimal harm to civilians.

The latest violence is seen by some as a litmus test for Lapid, who took over the role of caretaker prime minister in June after the eight-party coalition of his predecessor, Naftali Bennett collapsed. Lapid said after air raid sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area for the first time since Israel-Hamas war last year.

In a separate news release Sunday, the IDF said more than 97% of the rockets launched have been shot down by the Iron Dome Aerial Defense System.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, seems to be staying on the sidelines of the current conflict. It paid tribute to Mansour in a statement on Sunday, describing him and the other dead Islamic Jihad members as martyrs. Hamas is larger than the Islamic Jihad, but he shares many key demands and ideologies, including a refusal to acknowledge the existence of the state of Israel.

Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the past 15 years. Hamas has a good incentive to avoid another war, as last year a conflict wreaked havoc on the 2.3 million Palestinian territory.

Since the last war, Israel and Hamas have reached a tacit understanding based on trading calm for work permits and a slight easing of the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas overran the territory 15 years ago.

In a call with Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reiterated the U.S. support for Israel and its right to defend itself, while urging de-escalation steps. He said he was concerned about reports of civilian deaths and called for a thorough and timely investigation.

Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv and Mithil Aggarwal of Hong Kong.