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People take cover as a building is hit by an Israeli air strike in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza Strip, on May 12, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

GAZA, May 12: A senior leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group was killed in the latest Israeli air strike on an apartment in the Gaza Strip on Friday, according to an official from the group.

The official identified the leader as Eyad Al Hasani, a member of the Islamic Jihad’s top military council. He was the sixth council member to be killed by Israel this week. Hasani’s aide was also killed in the strike.

Earlier in the day, bursts of rocket fire from Gaza sent warning sirens wailing as far north as the contested capital of Jerusalem — about 48 miles (77 kilometers) from the Gaza border — breaking a 12-hour lull that had raised hopes regional powers could soon broker a truce.

The fighting, which started on Tuesday, between Israel and Islamic Jihad — the second-largest militant group in Gaza after the territory’s Hamas rulers — have killed 33 Palestinians in the strip, including women and children, and a 70-year-old man in central Israel.

A rocket slammed into an open field in the Israeli south Jerusalem settlement of Bat Ayin, said Josh Hasten, a spokesperson for the area. Dull thuds could be heard inside the city, home to major sites holy to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Videos showed Israelis jumping out of their cars and crouching beneath highway rails as the sirens sounded. Residents in nearby Israeli settlements reported hearing explosions and seeing black smoke rising from the hills after an apparent missile interception.

“The bombing of Jerusalem sends a message,” Islamic Jihad said in a statement. “What is happening in Jerusalem is not separate from Gaza.”

In response, the Israeli military said its warplanes struck four Islamic Jihad military posts and a mortar shell launcher across the Gaza Strip. Residents reported the strikes hit targets in open areas.

The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was conducting a security assessment to mount a further response. “We continue,” he tweeted.

The Israeli military urged residents living within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the Gaza boundary to remain close to bomb shelters and limit public gatherings until Saturday evening.

Sirens near Jerusalem took some back to the spring of 2021, when Hamas fired rockets toward the city, which helped set off a bloody 11-day Gaza war. At that time, the militant group cited a provocative far-right march through the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem as one of the reasons for its rocket barrage, along with the displacement of Palestinians from the city’s east.

Parade to be allowed

Israeli police said they will allow the same Jewish ultranationalist parade — meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem — to take place next Thursday.

Since Tuesday, Israeli strikes have killed five senior Islamic Jihad figures and hit at least 215 targets in Gaza, including rocket and mortar launch sites and militants preparing to use them. Islamic Jihad has retaliated with nearly 900 rockets fired toward densely populated parts of Israel.

Israeli bombs and shells have destroyed 47 housing units, and damaged 19 so badly they were uninhabitable, leaving 165 Palestinians homeless, Gaza’s housing ministry reported. In addition, nearly 300 homes sustained some damage.

Palestinians on Friday surveyed the wreckage from the fighting.

“The dream that we built for our children, for our sons, has ended,” said Belal Bashir, a Palestinian living in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza, whose family home was reduced to a heap of rubble in an airstrike late Thursday. He, his young daughters and two-week-old son would have been killed in the thundering explosion if they hadn’t ran outside when they heard shouting, he said.

“We were shocked that our house was targeted,” he added as he pulled his children’s dolls and blankets from a gaping bomb crater.

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A crater formed after an Israli air strike in Beit Lahia on May 12, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

At least 33 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed in the fighting, including six children and four women, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. At least two of the children were killed by suspected misfired Palestinian rockets, according to the Israeli military and the Palestinian Center for Rights. Over 90 Palestinians have been wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry reported.

The civilians deaths have drawn condemnation from the Arab world and concern from the United States and Europe. In its past four wars against Hamas, Israel has repeatedly faced accusations of war crimes due to the high civilian death tolls and its use of heavy weapons against the crowded enclave. Israel, in turn, contends that Palestinian militant groups use civilians as human shields by fighting in their midst.

Hamas, the de facto civilian government with an army of some 30,000 in Gaza, has sought to maintain its truce with Israel while attempting to keep abysmal living conditions in the blockaded enclave from spiraling since the devastating 2021 war that killed over 260 Palestinians. The group, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, has sat out this round of fighting — as it did a similar burst of violence last summer. In a sign of restraint, Israel has limited its airstrikes to Islamic Jihad targets.

In Cairo, Islamic Jihad political bureau member Mohammad Al Hindi was trying to hash out the details of a possible truce. He told Palestinian media that he hoped both sides “would reach a ceasefire agreement and honor it today.” But the continuing exchange of fire hours later seemed to undermine his optimism.