Israel’s military has killed the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) rocket launching force in a pre-dawn air strike on an apartment in Gaza.

Two other people, who the military said were also militants, died in the attack in the southern city of Khan Younis.

Sirens later sounded in southern Israel as rockets and mortars were launched from Gaza. No injuries were reported.

On Wednesday, militants fired 507 rockets and mortars at Israel and Israel struck 158 PIJ targets in Gaza.

Twenty-five people have been killed and 76 injured in Gaza since Tuesday morning when Israel began its operation against PIJ with a series of strikes that killed another three of its commanders, health officials there say.

At least 10 civilians are also among the dead, which the United Nations has described as unacceptable.

The Israeli military said four people, including three children, were killed in Gaza by rockets falling short on Wednesday, though this has not been corroborated by Palestinian sources.

Islamic Jihad said the allegation was “completely incorrect” and accused Israel of trying to evade responsibility for their deaths.

There have been no fatalities in Israel, although several people have been injured while rushing to shelters, according to local health officials.

The early morning Israeli air strike in Khan Younis destroyed an apartment at the top of a six-story building and damaged the apartment below it.

Abdullah Samir Hummaid, whose apartment in a neighbouring building was also damaged, said he had just got into bed when he saw “an extremely bright flash of light, turning the dark night into day, and then two explosions sounded within a few seconds”.

“Stones and glass fell on us, we couldn’t see a thing, and we didn’t know where everybody was. I could hear the yelling and screaming of the children, and them calling out ‘daddy, daddy’,” he told Reuters news agency.

“I crawled to them, and found them covering their heads with their blankets,” he added. “I took them and we went outside, I returned and took my wife and our six-month-old baby who had been hit by debris and glass.”

The armed wing of the PIJ confirmed that the head of its missile unit, Ali Hassan Ghali, also known as Abu Mohammed, was killed in the attack, which it described as a “treacherous Zionist assassination”.

The Palestinian health ministry said three people were killed and seven others injured. Palestinian media reported that the two other dead were Ghali’s brother and nephew.

The PIJ is the second biggest militant group in Gaza after Hamas, which controls the territory and has been responsible for many of the rocket attacks on Israel in recent years.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed it had targeted Ghali and what it called two “other Islamic Jihad operatives in Gaza”.

It described the commander as a central figure in the PIJ who had been “responsible for the recent rocket barrages launched against Israel”.

BBC/Adebukola Aluko

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