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Rockets fall on Jerusalem as Israeli airstrike kills second-in-command of Islamic Jihad

TEL AVIV — Rockets rained down near west Jerusalem on Sunday after the Israeli 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 Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, said in a statement on Sunday. He added that two other agents, 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 it said would “ignite the battle to defend Jerusalem”. The statement also said two more of its members, Ziyad Ahmad al-Mudallal and Raafat Saleh Sheikh al-Eid, were also killed.

It was Israel’s second such targeted attack since it launched its high-risk military offensive against the militant group on Friday. Taiseer al-Jabari, the senior commander of Islamic Jihad’s northern Gaza division, was also killed on Friday, both Israel and the militant group confirmed.

Smoke billows from a building hit during an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on August 7.Said Khatib / AFP – Getty Images

Five civilians were also killed on Sunday, bringing the death toll to 31 since the Israeli offensive began on Friday, the Palestinian health ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

Six children and four women are among the dead, it said, adding that more than 250 people have been injured.

The Israeli army said in a statement on 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. The Ministry of Health announced that six people were killed in Jebaliya.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement on Sunday that the operation would continue “as long as necessary”, adding that its army was acting in a “precise and responsible manner”, with minimal harm to civilians.

The latest round of violence is seen by some as a test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister in June after the collapse of his predecessor Naftali Bennett’s eight-party coalition. The next elections are scheduled for November.

Lapid’s comments came after air raid sirens sounded in the Jerusalem area for the first time on Sunday since last year’s Israel-Hamas war.

In a separate press release on Sunday, the IDF said more than 97 percent of the rockets fired have been shot down by the Iron Dome air defense system.

So far, Hamas, which rules Gaza, appears to be staying on the sidelines of the current conflict. But he paid tribute to Mansour in a statement on Sunday, describing him and the other dead members of Islamic Jihad as “martyrs”.

Hamas is larger than Islamic Jihad, but the pair share many key demands and ideologies, including refusing to recognize the existence of the state of Israel.

Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller battles in the past 15 years. Hamas has a strong incentive to avoid another war, as last year’s conflict took a staggering toll on the impoverished region’s 2.3 million Palestinians.

Since the last war, Israel and Hamas have reached a tacit understanding based on a trade lull for work permits and a slight relaxation of the border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas seized the region 15 years ago.

Elsewhere, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a call with Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz on Saturday, reiterated US support for Israel and its right to defend itself, while urging de-escalation measures. He also said he was concerned about reports of civilian deaths and called for “a prompt and thorough” investigation.

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

Reuters and Associated Press contributed.

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