(Update 3: upgrades death toll after fresh Israeli strikes, minor edits)
Jerusalem/Gaza, May 9 (EFE).- At least 15 people, including three top commanders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, were killed on Tuesday by Israeli air strikes on Gaza, Palestinian officials said.
The Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed the death of two more people as a result of the latest round of shelling on Tuesday afternoon, while sources in the Gaza Strip confirmed that they were militants.
The Israeli Army reported that “an aircraft struck a terrorist squad carrying Anti-tank guided missiles in the city of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.”
The incident came hours after a major Israeli bombardment on the Gaza Strip, in what a military spokesman described as a “targeted killing” of three PIJ leaders in Gaza early Tuesday morning.
That round of shelling also killed 10 civilians and wounded at least 20 people – including four children and four women –, some of whom were in a critical condition, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Amid the escalating tension in the region, Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen curtailed his visit to India shortly after arriving in New Delhi for a three-day trip.
“In light of the events in Israel, Cohen decided to cut short his diplomatic visit to India,” an Israeli foreign ministry statement said.
The Israeli Air Force said it carried out the predawn airstrikes using 40 planes and drones, confirming that they targeted the PIJ and some of its leaders, allegedly responsible for recent rocket launches into Israel.
The operation, codenamed “Shield and Arrow,” saw buildings housing PIJ officials, its weapons manufacturing units, and military compounds.
The Israeli military said that among the slain militant leaders were Khalil Bahitini, who had been responsible for launching rockets against Israel over the past month, Tareq Ezzedine, who coordinated attacks against Israelis in the occupied West Bank, and Jihad Al-Ghanam, a high-ranking leader of the movement.
Ghanam was among the Islamic Jihad leaders who coordinated with the Hamas movement that de facto rules the coastal strip.
PIJ sources confirmed to EFE that militants were in the buildings targeted in Israeli raids that also targeted military installations of the group, considered a terror organization by Israel, the US, and the European Union.
Ahead of anticipated rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups operating in the strip, some 200 Israeli families residing in communities in southern Israel were being evacuated to other parts of the country on Tuesday, according to the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council.
“The council is ready to help all residents who have special needs, including mobility problems and more,” it said in a statement.
Defense minister Yoav Gallant gave the green light earlier on Tuesday to a program allowing citizens of communities near Gaza to move into other homes in Israel amid hostilities.
A military spokesperson said the Israeli operation was a response to the rocket attacks by Palestinian militants following the death of a prominent prisoner, Khader Adnan, who had been on a hunger strike for 87 days to protest his detention.
The Islamic Jihad military wing, the al-Quds Brigades, confirmed that the three commanders and their families, including children, were among the dead.
“As we mourn our martyr leaders, along with their mujahideen wives and a number of their children, we affirm that the blood of the martyrs will increase our resolve,” the al-Quds Brigades said.
“We will not leave our positions, and the resistance will continue, God willing.” EFE