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story.lead_photo.caption Israeli police bomb disposal officers remove a rocket Wednesday that was fired from the Gaza Strip into farmland near the Gaza border. More photos are available at arkansasonline.com/1114israel/

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli aircraft struck Islamic Jihad targets throughout the Gaza Strip on Wednesday while the militant group rained scores of rockets into Israel for a second straight day as the heaviest round of fighting in months showed no signs of ending. The death toll rose to 26 Palestinians, including a 7-year-old boy and two other minors.

The U.N.'s Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, rushed to Cairo to work with Egyptian mediators on arranging a truce. An Islamic Jihad delegation was also expected in Egypt "very soon," an Egyptian intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

"I am very concerned about the ongoing and serious escalation between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel," Mladenov said. "The U.N. is working to urgently de-escalate the situation."

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah said in an interview late Wednesday that his group was ready for a cease-fire if Israel accepted "conditions," including a halt to targeted killings of Palestinian militant leaders.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fhg7fJqJGnQ]

The fighting broke out early Tuesday after Israel killed a senior commander in the Islamic Jihad militant group, along with his wife, as they slept in their Gaza home. Israeli officials say Bahaa Abu el-Atta was responsible for numerous rocket attacks and was plotting a large-scale border infiltration.

Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed militant group sworn to Israel's destruction, responded by launching dozens of rockets at Israel, some reaching as far as Tel Aviv, prompting Israel to carry out scores of airstrikes.

The rocket fire brought much of Israel to a standstill. Schools closed throughout southern Israel, people stayed home from work and large public gatherings were banned. Air-raid sirens wailed during the day and into the evening. By Wednesday night, the army said 360 rockets had been fired at Israel.

In Gaza, schools and public institutions also were closed for a second day and there were few cars on the streets, with people mostly staying indoors.

Gallery: Exchanges of fire continue across Israel-Gaza border

[GALLERY: Exchanges of fire continue across Israel-Gaza border » arkansasonline.com/1114israel/]

Convening Israel's top security officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped the fighting would end quickly.

"We are not bent on escalation, but we will do whatever is necessary to restore the quiet and security to the residents of Israel, including the residents of the south," he said.

Hamas, the larger and more powerful militant group that controls Gaza, has so far avoided entering the fray.

Palestinian health officials reported 26 dead from Israeli airstrikes, including at least 16 militants. Five civilians, including a woman and boys ages 17, 16 and 7, were among the dead. The identities of the others killed were not immediately known.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the army was limiting its strikes to Islamic Jihad targets and avoiding conflict with Hamas to prevent an escalation.

"However, it's very clear that if there will be Israeli casualties, the situation would change drastically and we would be forced to respond in a different manner," he said.

Israeli tanks, armored vehicles and artillery batteries took up positions along the Gaza border.

No Israeli deaths were reported, in part because of Israel's Iron Dome defense system, which the military said has a 90% success rate when deployed.

A few homes suffered direct hits, though, and there was a near miss on a major highway, where a rocket crashed just after a vehicle passed. In all, three people suffered slight wounds from shrapnel or shattered glass caused by rocket fire, medical officials said.

Israel's strikes against Islamic Jihad marked the latest manifestation of a spreading battle between Israel and Iranian proxies in the region.

Iran has forces based in Syria, Israel's northern neighbor, and supports Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. In Gaza, it supplies Islamic Jihad with cash, weapons and expertise.

Netanyahu also has claimed 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 hits Iranian interests in Syria. But on Tuesday, Syrian officials said an Israeli airstrike targeted a senior Islamic Jihad militant in Damascus, a rare assassination attempt of a Palestinian militant in the Syrian capital. Israel did not comment on the airstrike, which missed the militant but killed two of his relatives.

Despite the disruption to daily life, there appeared to be widespread support in Israel for the targeting of Abu el-Atta.

Information for this article was contributed by Samy Magdy of The Associated Press.

A Section on 11/14/2019

Print Headline: Israeli airstrikes answer second day of rocket fire

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