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Sakher Abou El Oun with Jonah Mandel in Jerusalem

Palestinian militants target Jerusalem as Gaza death toll reaches 29

Children react to an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. ©AFP

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Palestinian militants in Gaza fired rockets at Jerusalem Sunday for the first time since conflict escalated, as Israel bombarded Islamic Jihad positions for a third day in violence that has left 29 dead.

The updated count from health authorities in the Islamist-run enclave said six children were among those killed since the start of the "Israeli aggression" on Friday, in addition to 253 people injured.

On Sunday Israel pressed on with its bombardment of positons of Islamic Jihad militants who have retaliated with barrages of rockets.

The Israeli army has said the entire "senior leadership of the military wing of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza has been neutralised", and Prime Minister Yair Lapid vowed Sunday that "the operation will continue as long as necessary".

In Gaza, the ministry initially said 32 people had died since Friday, but later revised the figure down to 29.

Israel said it had "irrefutable" evidence that a stray rocket from Islamic Jihad militants had been responsible for the deaths of multiple children in Jabalia, northern Gaza, on Saturday.

It was not immediately clear how many children were killed in the incident in Jabalia.An AFP photographer saw six dead bodies at an area hospital, including three minors.

In Jerusalem AFP reporters heard two explosions as rockets were intercepted in the air.

Al Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad movement's military wing, said it had "fired rockets" at the city, where air raid sirens wailed.

Jews on Sunday mark the Tisha Be'av remembrance day by visiting the Al Aqsa mosque compound, known in Judaism as the Temple Mount, in Israel-annexed east Jerusalem.

Tensions there have previously sparked wider violence, and Hamas's Doha-based chief Ismail Haniyeh has warned against allowing Jews to "storm" the compound Sunday, saying it could lead to an "uncontrollable" security crisis. 

'Crucial and difficult'

The violence is the worst in Gaza since a war last year devastated the impoverished territory -- home to some 2.3 million Palestinians -- and forced countless Israelis to seek shelter from rockets. 

Israel's military has warned its latest aerial and artillery campaign against Islamic Jihad could last a week, but Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Cairo was talking "around the clock" with both sides to ease the violence. 

Israel has said it was necessary to launch a "pre-emptive" operation against Islamic Jihad, as the group was planning an imminent attack following days of tensions along the border with Gaza.

The head of the army's operations directorate, Oded Basiok, said the entire "senior leadership of the military wing of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza has been neutralised" by Israel's campaign. 

That includes Taysir al-Jabari, a top militant commander killed in Gaza City on Friday, and Khaled Mansour, who Islamic Jihad confirmed died in a strike in Rafah, southern Gaza on Saturday. 

Israel's Lapid on Sunday called the killing of Mansour a "remarkable achievement".

Twenty members of Islamic Jihad were arrested overnight in several raids by Israeli security forces in the West Bank, the army said.

Daily life in the Gaza strip has come to a standstill, while the electricity distributor said the sole power station shut down due to a lack of fuel after Israel closed its border crossings.

Gaza's health ministry said the next few hours will be "crucial and difficult", warning it risked soon suspending vital services as a result of the lack of electricity.

'We are all alone'

In Gaza City, resident Dounia Ismail said Palestinians had become accustomed to preparing a "survival bag" of items such as money and medicine.

"This latest escalation brings back images of fear, anxiety, and the feeling that we are all alone," she told AFP.

Civilians in southern and central Israel, meanwhile, have been forced into air raid shelters since Friday.

The Magen David Adom emergency service said two people were hospitalised with shrapnel wounds and 13 others were lightly hurt while running for safety.

In Kibbutz Nahal Oz, an Israeli community beside the Gaza border, resident Nadav Peretz said he had been "in the bomb shelter or around it" since Friday. 

"We recognise that on the other side too there is an uninvolved civilian population, and on both sides children deserve to enjoy their summer vacation," the 40-year-old said.

Islamic Jihad is aligned with Hamas, but often acts independently.Both are blacklisted as terrorist organisations by much of the West.

Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict last May. 

A flare-up with Islamic Jihad came in 2019, following Israel's killing of Baha Abu al-Ata, Jabari's predecessor.Hamas did not join the fray in that conflict.

Hamas's moves now could prove crucial, with the group facing pressure from some to restore calm in order to improve economic conditions in Gaza.

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