Islamic Jihad leader killed in fresh Israeli strike on Gaza: Statement

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The Palestinian group Islamic Jihad announced on Thursday the death of one of its military leaders in a pre-dawn strike carried out by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.

“Ali Ghali... commander of the rocket launch unit... was assassinated in the south of the Gaza Strip along with other martyrs,” said a statement from the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed branch of the group.

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The Israeli army confirmed that it targeted Ghali in the strike, part of an operation that has killed 25 people including women and children this week.

Gaza has retaliated with rockets.

Egypt was set to host senior Islamic Jihad official Mohammad al-Hindi in Cairo later in the day, part of mediation efforts to end the fighting, two Islamic Jihad officials and a foreign diplomat told Reuters.

Ghali was the fourth senior Islamic Jihad commander killed since Israel began striking Gaza in pre-dawn raids on Tuesday.

The military said Ghali had helped oversee the launch of rocket fire towards Israel over recent days as well as in previous rounds of fighting. Islamic Jihad is an Iranian-backed militant group allied with Hamas, which rules the enclave.

Air raid sirens sounded in areas of southern Israel around the Gaza Strip, and Reuters images showed rockets intercepted by Israeli air defenses in the night sky.

Israeli jets hit targets including a mortar post in the northern part of the enclave.

The Israeli military said it has attacked 158 targets in Gaza while at least 523 rockets were launched towards Israel this week.

Only 380 crossed into Israel but air defenses intercepted 96 percent of those that threatened to hit targets.

It also said more than 100 rockets had misfired, killing four Palestinians, including a 10-year-old girl, an assertion Islamic Jihad denied as “completely incorrect.”

“Once again Israel tries to escape its responsibility for the killing of civilians through fabrications and lies,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Dawoud Shehab said.

Israel has kept crossings for the movement of people and goods closed since Tuesday, stopping the entry of essentials such as food, fuel, and humanitarian aid as well as the exit of patients who receive medical treatment outside the coastal enclave.

After more than a year of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has killed more than 100 Palestinians and at least 19 Israelis and foreigners since January, the latest escalation drew international alarm and calls for a ceasefire.

Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi were also due to meet their French and German counterparts in Berlin later on Thursday to discuss peace efforts.

However, Israel rejected demands from Islamic Jihad that it end its policy of targeted killings of the group's leaders.

“We are not willing to accept delusional demands from the Islamic Jihad,” said MK Yuli Edelstein, head of the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Kan radio.

“Every now and then, we have to initiate action, and this is exactly what the IDF and the Shin Bet (intelligence agency) did very successfully this time,” he said.

Israeli forces also conducted raids in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian health ministry said a 30 year-old man died of his wounds after being shot in the town of Qabatiya on Wednesday.

Israel captured Gaza and the West Bank, areas Palestinians want for an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital, in a 1967 war. Israeli forces and settlers withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Statehood talks have been frozen since 2014.

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