Israel is calling on 5,000 reserve soldiers to help bolster its defenses Tuesday as rockets continue to fly into its territory from Gaza, striking buildings and prompting warning sirens to wail in cities and towns throughout the region.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz authorized the move as Egypt is engaged in "intensive" talks with Israel and Gaza militants on reaching a cease-fire to end the latest round of fighting, an official said, with hopes of brokering a deal as soon as Wednesday.
The mobilization of the 5,000 reserve soldiers "is for the continuation of operations ... and reinforcements for defending the home front," Gantz said Tuesday, according to The Times of Israel.
Since sundown Monday, 26 Palestinians -- including nine children and a woman -- were killed in Gaza, mostly by airstrikes, Gaza health officials said. The Israeli military said at least 16 of the dead were militants. During the same period, Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets toward Israel, killing two Israeli civilians and wounding 10 others.
Fresh rockets launched out of Gaza Tuesday struck an empty school in the coastal city of Ashkelon, where the Israeli military has been urging residents to shelter in place, The Times of Israel reported. Television footage showed thick smoke rising from cars that had caught on fire.
Later, a second building in the city of Ashdod was hit, lightly wounding four people, Israeli police said.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military announced it has killed a senior commander of the Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza on Tuesday.
It said the militant was the head of the Islamic Jihad’s rocket unit and identified him as Samih al-Mamluk. The military said other senior militants in the organization were also killed in the same strike.
Islamic Jihad confirmed the three killed in an airstrike in an apartment in Gaza City were senior members of its armed wing and vowed retaliation.
Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007. Recent rounds of fighting have usually ended after a few days, often helped by behind-the-scenes mediation by Qatar, Egypt and others.
An Egyptian intelligence official told the Associated Press on Tuesday that Egypt is engaged in "intensive" talks with Israel and Gaza militants on reaching a cease-fire to end the latest round of violence.
The official said the efforts began in late April as the situation in Jerusalem worsened. He said Israeli actions, including the recent storming of the Al-Aqsa mosque and the planned evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in an East Jerusalem neighborhood, have frustrated the mediators.
The official said "the situation is changing rapidly," but officials nonetheless hope to reach a truce before the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which begins Wednesday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that fighting could "continue for some time."
After meeting with senior defense officials Tuesday, he said Israel will increase its strikes against militants in the Gaza Strip and Hamas will "receive blows now that it didn’t expect."
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters Tuesday that the military was in "the early stages" of strikes against Gaza targets that it had planned well in advance.
Conricus said the military -- in its ongoing operation -- has hit 130 targets in Gaza, including two tunnels militants were digging under the border with Israel. He said Israel’s new system of concrete barriers and electronic sensors, intended to thwart tunnel digging, has proven effective.
He did not address Gaza Health Ministry reports about the dead children.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.