Israel killed three senior commanders of the Islamic Jihad militant group in targeted airstrikes early Tuesday, the army said. Palestinian health officials said 13 people were killed in total, including the commanders, their wives, several of their children and others close to them.

Attacks in densely populated residential areas set the stage for a new round of heavy fighting. They struck the top floor of an apartment building in Gaza City and a house in the southern city of Rafah. The Palestinian Health Ministry said 20 people were injured and ambulances were continuing to evacuate people from targeted areas.

Airstrikes continued in the early hours, targeting militant training sites, Israel said.

In the past, Palestinian militant groups in Gaza have retaliated for such targeted killings. Anticipating Palestinian rocket attacks in response to airstrikes, the Israeli military advised residents of communities within 25 miles of Gaza to stay close to designated bomb shelters.

The Israel National Front command ordered the closure of schools, beaches and roads in cities and towns in southern Israel, and limited public gatherings.

The army said the three men attacked had been responsible for the recent rocket fire into Israel.

Men carry the body of an Islamic Jihad member in Gaza City on Tuesday. Anas Baba / AFP – Getty Images

He identified them as Khalil Bahtini, the Islamic Jihad commander for the northern Gaza Strip; Tareq Izzeldeen, the group’s intermediary between its members in Gaza and the West Bank; and Jehad Ghanam, secretary of the Islamic Jihad military council. Their funerals were planned for later in the day.

Iran-backed Islamic Jihad, which is smaller than the ruling Hamas group in Gaza, confirmed the three were among the dead. The Palestinian Health Ministry said that along with the three commanders, their wives, several of their children and others close to them were also killed, 13 in all.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has warned that Israel will «pay the price» for the killings. «Killing the leaders with a treacherous operation will not bring security to the occupier, but more resistance,» Haniyeh said in a statement.

The airstrikes came at a time of heightened tensions between Israel and the militants in the Gaza Strip. It is related, in part, to the rise in violence in the occupied West Bank, where Israel has been waging almost daily raids for months to detain Palestinians suspected of planning or carrying out attacks against Israelis.

Israel launches airstrikes in Gaza
Relatives of a Palestinian man who was killed during Israeli airstrikes mourn at the morgue in Rafah, Gaza, on Tuesday. Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week, Gaza militants fired several salvoes of rockets into southern Israel, and the Israeli military responded with airstrikes after the death of a senior Islamic Jihad member on hunger strike in Israeli custody. The exchange of fire ended with a fragile ceasefire brokered by Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar.

The airstrikes are similar to those in 2022 in which Israel bombed sites housing Islamic Jihad group commanders, sparking a three-day bombardment in which the group lost its two top commanders and dozens of other militants.

Israel says the raids in the West Bank are aimed at dismantling militant networks and thwarting future attacks. The Palestinians see the attacks as a further entrenchment of Israel’s 56-year indefinite occupation of land they seek for a future independent state.

So far, 105 Palestinians, about half of them militants or suspected attackers, have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank and east Jerusalem since early 2023, according to an Associated Press tally. At least 20 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks in Israel in the same period.