Israeli airstrike kills militant leader in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – An Israeli airstrike killed a militant leader in the Gaza Strip Monday, just hours ahead of a seven-hour truce announced by Israel that was meant to open a “humanitarian window” for aid as Israeli forces draw down ground operations in the coastal territory.

However, the military said the cease-fire would not apply to areas where troops were still operating and where they would respond to any attack. The southern strip town of Rafah, which saw particularly heavy fighting on Sunday, was excluded from the truce, the military said.

Shortly after the cease-fire went into effect at 10 a.m. (0700 GMT), two Israeli missiles struck a beach house near Gaza City, killing one person and leaving up to 20 people missing, the Red Crescent and a Gaza health official said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the strike.

The Islamic Jihad group – a close ally of Gaza’s militant Palestinian Hamas rulers – said its commander in the northern part of the strip, Daniel Mansour, died when an Israeli strike hit his home just before dawn.

Even though Israel has been drawing down its ground operation since the weekend, it has kept up heavy aerial, offshore and artillery bombardments of the strip. The Gaza war, now in its fourth week, has killed more than 1,800 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group was skeptical about the Israeli truce announcement. “We do not trust such a calm and call on our people to take caution,” Zuhri said.

Israel launched the military operation in Gaza on July 8 in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire. It has since carried out more than 4,600 airstrikes across the crowded seaside area. On July 17, it sent in ground forces in what it said was a mission to destroy the tunnels used by Hamas to carry out attacks inside Israel.

Since the fighting erupted, Hamas has fired more than 3,200 rockets into Israel, many of them intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. In contrast to Israel’s high-tech warfare, which includes precision-guided missiles and large payload ordinance, Hamas’s rocket technology remains relatively primitive and has not been as deadly.

Overnight, Israeli forces carried out new airstrikes while Israeli tanks and navy gunboats fired dozens of artillery shells, targeting houses, agricultural plots and open areas, Gaza police said. They said Israeli jet fighters destroyed three mosques, nine houses, five seaside chalets and a warehouse for construction material.

The Gaza police said Israeli navy boats also approached the northern coast of the strip and soldiers tried to land in the area.

On the ground, there were clashes in the southern town of Rafah and southeast of Gaza City, they said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.