Mediation efforts between Israel and Hamas to halt cross-border attacks ceased on Tuesday after Israel killed three Islamic Jihad commanders in targeted assassinations in Gaza, Palestinian and Egyptian sources told Haaretz.
Diplomatic sources said Israel rejected a request by Hamas, carried by international mediators, to negotiate a truce. Later Wednesday, an Egyptian delegation of security officials is expected in the Gaza Strip for talks with Hamas.
The head of the political bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, said talks were conducted with Qatar, Egypt and other countries, adding that the group was "prepared for an escalation or for calm." Haniyeh pinned the blame for the latest flare-up on Israel, rather than Hamas.
The Israeli military announced on Tuesday that its strike killed the commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s special rocket unit, Samah Abed al-Mamluk. Another attack killed the commander of the anti-tank defenses of Gaza City, Iyad Fathi Faik Sharir, and a member of Islamic Jihad’s rocket unit, Kamal Karika, the army said.
On Wednesday morning, Israel said it targeted senior Hamas military intelligence officers in a Gaza building. The head of the security department in Hamas' military intelligence, Hassan Kauji, was killed, as was his deputy, Wail Issa, and the head of the counterintelligence department, who was the brother of the deputy commander of Hamas’ military wing, Marwan Issa.
Hundreds of rockets were launched from Gaza at south and central Israel, and six people in Israel died since Monday, in one of the most intensive rounds of violence.
In Gaza, at least 53 people were killed by Israeli strikes.
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The flare-up is by far the most severe since the 2014 Gaza war, with the Tel Aviv area seeing the heaviest rocket attack in its history.
The latest round of fighting began after Israel refused to comply with a Hamas ultimatum to withdraw its forces from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and the Temple Mount, which followed weeks of increasingly violent clashes between Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem in which hundreds were wounded.