Published40 minutes ago
The Israeli military has killed two Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders in air strikes in Gaza during a third day of fighting with militants there.
A pre-dawn attack on an apartment in Khan Younis killed the head of PIJ’s rocket-launching force and two others, who the military said were militants.
In the afternoon, his deputy was killed in a strike in a nearby town.
Later, one man was killed when a rocket fired from Gaza hit a building in the central Israeli city of Rehovot.
It was the first fatality in Israel since it began an operation against PIJ on Tuesday morning with a series of air strikes that killed another three of the group’s commanders.
Twenty-nine people have been killed and 93 injured in Gaza over the same period, health officials there say. At least 10 civilians are also among the dead, which the United Nations has called unacceptable.
The Israeli military said four people, including three children, were killed in Gaza by rockets falling short on Wednesday, though this has not been corroborated by Palestinian sources. PIJ denied the allegation and accused Israel of trying to evade responsibility for their deaths.
Militants have launched at least 803 rockets since Wednesday, 620 of which have crossed into Israeli territory, the Israeli military says. Some have hit buildings, but most have landed in open areas or been intercepted. It says it has hit 191 PIJ sites since Tuesday.
On Thursday night a barrage of rockets reached the area around Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital, about 60km (37 miles) north of Gaza, with no immediate reports of injuries.
The early morning Israeli air strike in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, destroyed an apartment at the top of a six-storey building and damaged the apartment below it.
Abdullah Samir Hummaid, whose apartment in a neighbouring building was also damaged, said he had just got into bed when he saw “an extremely bright flash of light, turning the dark night into day, and then two explosions sounded within a few seconds”.
“Stones and glass fell on us, we couldn’t see a thing, and we didn’t know where everybody was. I could hear the yelling and screaming of the children, and them calling out ‘daddy, daddy’,” he told Reuters news agency.
“I took them and we went outside,” he added. “I returned and took my wife and our six-month-old baby who had been hit by debris and glass.”
The armed wing of the PIJ confirmed that the head of its missile unit, Ali Hassan Ghali, also known as Abu Mohammed, was killed the attack, which it described as a “treacherous Zionist assassination”.
The Palestinian health ministry said three people were killed and seven others injured. Palestinian media reported that the two other dead were Ghali’s brother and nephew.
The PIJ is the second biggest militant group in Gaza after Hamas, which controls the territory, and has been responsible for many of the rocket attacks on Israel in recent years.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed it had targeted Ghali and what it called two “other Islamic Jihad operatives in Gaza” in their “hideout”.
It described the commander as a central figure in the PIJ who had been “responsible for the recent rocket barrages launched against Israel”.
Later on Thursday, militants began firing mortars and rockets at Israeli communities near the Gaza perimeter fence, damaging two homes in the Eshkol Regional Council area.
The IDF said it struck a number of targets belonging to PIJ in response to the rocket fire before it announced in the late afternoon that it had killed the deputy head of the group’s rocket-launching force, Ahmed Abu Daqqa, in an attack in the town of Bani Suheila, near Khan Younis.
Abu Daqqa “took a significant part in commanding and carrying out the rocket barrages towards Israel” over the past two days, the IDF said.
PIJ also confirmed Abu Daqqa’s death, while local health officials said one person was killed and four people were wounded in the strike.
“Anyone who comes to harm us – blood on his head, and also blood on the head of his replacement,” warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to a military base.
“We are in the middle of the campaign, both in attack and defence.”
Not long afterwards, Palestinian health officials reported that another two people were killed in the Shejaiya area of Gaza City.
Several barrages of rockets were also launched towards communities in southern and central Israel, triggering sirens and causing residents to run to shelters.
“We’ve got 30 seconds to literally get in [the safe room],” Beverly Jamil, who lives in Ashkelon, 12km north of Gaza, told the BBC .
“You can be anywhere – parking the car, in the middle of cooking, in the shower, you’ve got 30 seconds to get in here, close the door and wait and we have to make sure that we’re all in, ie the whole family, me, my husband, my two girls and the three dogs.”
Israel’s Magen David Adom (MDA) ambulance service said there was a direct hit on an apartment building in Rehovot, about 21km south of Tel Aviv, killing a man. It said five people have been wounded by rockets and 16 injured running to shelters since the rocket fire began on Wednesday.
Earlier, a spokeswoman for UN Secretary General António Guterres said he condemned “the civilian loss of life, including that of children and women, which he views as unacceptable”.
“The secretary general urges all parties concerned to exercise maximum restraint and to work to stop hostilities immediately,” she added.
Egypt is working to try to secure a ceasefire between the two sides.
Palestinian factions reportedly want Israel to agree to stop what it calls “targeted assassinations”. However, Israeli lawmaker Yuli Edelstein said it was not willing to accept “delusional demands”.
This week’s fighting is the heaviest since three days of hostilities between Israel and PIJ last August, in which 49 Palestinians were killed in Gaza.
Meanwhile, tensions remain high in the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinian health ministry said a 66-year-old Palestinian man was shot and killed by Israeli forces during a raid on the Nur Shams refugee camp, near Tulkarm. The IDF said its troops returned fire after one was shot and lightly wounded by gunmen.
Additional reporting by David Gritten in London