Death toll rises to 29, including six children, as Israel pounds Gaza with air strikes
The death toll from escalating violence in Gaza rose to 29 on Sunday, as well as the killing of a senior commander of a Palestinian armed group, as Israel extended its bombardment of the territory for a second consecutive day.
In a statement today, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement (PIJ) confirmed the killing of one of its senior armed commanders in an Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip.
“Al-Quds Brigades (Jerusalem Brigades) mourns the leader Khaled Mansour, member of the security council and the commander of the southern region (of Gaza Strip) who was martyred as a result of an Israeli air strike yesterday (Saturday),” the group said in the statement.
Al-Quds Brigades is the armed wing of the group.
Meanwhile, the updated count from health authorities in the Hamas-run territory said six children were among those killed since the start of the “Israeli aggression” on Friday, in addition to 204 people injured.
But Israel said it had “irrefutable” evidence that a stray rocket from militants had been responsible for the death of multiple children in Jabalia, northern Gaza, on Saturday.
It was not immediately clear how many children were killed in the incident in Jabalia.
An AFP photographer saw six dead bodies at an area hospital, including three minors.
Israel’s military has warned its aerial and artillery campaign against the Palestinian armed group could last a week, but Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Cairo is talking “around the clock” with both sides to ease the violence.
Israel has said it was necessary to launch a “pre-emptive” operation against the group as it was planning an imminent attack following days of tensions along the border with Gaza.
Civilians meanwhile took refuge in air raid shelters on the Israeli side, with AFP journalists hearing sirens warning of incoming fire in the Tel Aviv area on Saturday evening.
In Rafah, on Gaza’s border with Egypt, women and children were trapped under rubble following an Israeli strike, the strip’s civil defence unit said.
Daily life in the strip has come to a standstill, while the electricity distributor said the sole power station shut down due to a lack of fuel after Israel closed its border crossings.
Gaza’s health ministry said the next few hours will be “crucial and difficult”, warning it risked suspending vital services within 72 hours as a result of the lack of electricity.
The UN humanitarian chief for the occupied Palestinian territories, Lynn Hastings, urged the warring sides to allow “fuel, food, and medical supplies” to be delivered to Gaza amid the worsening crisis.
On Friday, the health ministry reported “a five-year-old girl” was among those killed by Israeli fire.
The girl, Alaa Kaddum, had a pink bow in her hair and a wound on her forehead, as her body was carried by her father at her funeral.
The Gaza strikes follow the arrest in the occupied West Bank of two senior members of Palestinian armed group, including Bassem al-Saadi, whom Israel accuses of orchestrating recent attacks.
Israel has conducted a wave of often deadly raids in the West Bank since mid-March in response to alleged lethal attacks on Israelis.
Islamic Jihad is aligned with Hamas, but often acts independently. Both are blacklisted as terrorist organisations by much of the West.
Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict last May.
A flare-up with Islamic Jihad came in 2019, following Israel’s killing of Baha Abu al-Ata, Jabari’s predecessor. Hamas did not join the fray in that conflict.
Hamas’s moves now could prove crucial, with the group facing pressure from some to restore calm in order to improve economic conditions in Gaza.