Israel strikes kill top Gaza militant, triggering rocket barrage

Israel pounded Gaza with air strikes on Friday, killing at least 15 people, and triggering a barrage of retaliatory rocket fire from militants in the Palestinian enclave. 

The most severe Gaza violence since a war in May of last year followed days of tensions between Israel and the Islamic Jihad group, which Israel accused of planning attacks. 

A five-year-old girl in Gaza was among those killed in the Israeli strikes, according to the health ministry in the blockaded territory controlled since 2007 by Hamas Islamists. 

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid described the strikes as a "precise counter-terror operation against an immediate threat", and announced the killing of Taysir al-Jabari, who he described as Islamic Jihad's second-in-command.  

Islamic Jihad said the Israeli bombardment amounted to a "declaration of war", before it unleashed an "initial response" of more than 100 rockets towards Israel.

It later announced another flurry of rocket fire, as air raid sirens rang out across southern and central Israel and officials in the country's commercial capital Tel Aviv opened the city's bomb shelters.