Israel killed the head of Islamic Jihad’s rocket force and his deputy, pressing an operation that has cost 28 lives in Gaza including women and children, while Palestinian cross-border rocket salvoes inflicted a first fatality in Israel yesterday.
Amid mediation efforts by Egypt, neither side seemed ready to douse the worst flare-up since August, now in its third day.
“We are at the height of a campaign, both offensive and defensive,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement issued during a visit to an air base.
The deaths of Ali Ghali and Ahmed Abu Daqqa brought to five the number of senior figures from Iranian-sponsored Islamic Jihad killed since Israel began striking Gaza early on Tuesday.
Two gunmen from a splinter group died in a separate strike yesterday. The identities of two men killed elsewhere were not immediately clear. Four women and six children have also died.
But Islamic Jihad, the second-biggest armed group in Gaza after the ruling Hamas Islamists, kept up volleys of rockets.
“We will not retreat and the assassinations will only make us stronger. Our revenge continues,” it said in a communiqué.
The hundreds of rockets launched have set off sirens as far north as Tel Aviv. Some 1.5 million Israelis – 16 per cent of the population – have been ordered to shelters, military spokesperson Rear-Admiral Daniel Hagari said.
After more than a year of resurgent Israeli-Palestinian violence that has killed more than 140 Palestinians and at least 19 Israelis and foreigners since January, the latest escalation drew international calls for a ceasefire.
But Cairo, which hosted senior Islamic Jihad official Mohammad Al Hindi for talks, was circumspect about prospects.
“Egypt’s efforts to calm things down and resume the political process have not yet borne fruit,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said.
Meeting Jordanian, French and German counterparts in Berlin, Shoukry urged “peace-sponsoring countries to intervene and stop the attacks” and said Israel must “stop the unilateral measures that aim to destroy the future of the Palestinian state”.