Israeli air strikes killed two Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza as rocket fire towards Israel resumed after a brief overnight lull, raising the death toll in the territory to 16 Palestinians in the heaviest round of fighting in months.
The Israeli military said more than 250 rockets have been fired at communities in Israel since the violence erupted after an Israeli air strike killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander accused of being the mastermind of recent attacks.
Schools remained closed in communities near the Gaza border as rockets continued to rain down, although it was less intense than a relentless barrage the previous day.
But in a sign that the current round could be brief, Gaza’s Hamas rulers have yet to enter the fray.
Although larger and more powerful than the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, Hamas is also more pragmatic. With Gaza’s economy in tatters, it appears to have little desire for another round of fighting with Israel.
Egypt, which frequently mediates between Israel and Gaza militants, has been working to de-escalate tensions, according to officials in Cairo.
Seeking to keep the outburst under control, the Israeli military has restricted its operations to Islamic Jihad, and nearly all the casualties so far are members of the militant group.
The initial pre-dawn Israeli strike on Gaza came as another strike attributed to Israel targeted a senior Islamic Jihad commander based in Syria. The strikes appeared to be a new surge in the open warfare between Israel and Iranian proxies in the region.
Iran has forces based in Syria, Israel’s northern neighbour, and supports Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. In Gaza, it supplies Islamic Jihad with cash, weapons and expertise.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims Iran is using Iraq and far-off Yemen – where Tehran supports Shiite Houthi rebels at war with a Saudi-led coalition backing the government – to plan attacks against Israel. Hamas also receives some support from Iran.
Israel frequently strikes Iranian interests in Syria but Tuesday’s attack in Damascus appeared to be a rare assassination attempt of a Palestinian militant in the Syrian capital.