GAZA CITY: Palestinian fighters fired more than 250 rockets into Israeli towns and villages through Saturday, while Israel hit back with tank shelling and air strikes that Palestinian officials said killed four people.
Cross-border hostilities which broke out on Friday flared into a second day, with Palestinians fleeing Israeli strikes in Gaza and air-raid sirens sending Israelis running to shelters as interceptor missiles blew up rockets in the sky.
The escalation, which comes just ahead of both Ramadan and Israel’s Independence Day holiday, prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to convene security chiefs.
Egyptian mediators, credited with brokering ceasefires in previous rounds of violence, were working to prevent further hostilities.
The latest round of violence began on Friday when a Palestinian Islamic Jihad sniper fired at Israeli troops, wounding two soldiers, according to the Israeli military.
Israel retaliated with an air strike that killed two militants from the armed group Hamas, which controls Gaza. Two other Palestinians protesting near the frontier were killed by Israeli forces on the same day, Palestinian officials said.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad began firing waves of rockets into Israel early on Saturday. The Israeli military said its tanks and aircraft responded with strikes against more than 120 militant targets belonging to both groups.
Explosions shook Gaza City, where busy streets were packed with shoppers preparing for Ramadan.
The Gaza Health Ministry said a 14-month old baby, her pregnant mother and another man were killed by Israeli strikes and at least 20 other Palestinians were wounded.
“The Israeli plane fired a missile near the house and the shrapnel entered the house and hit the poor baby,” said her aunt, Ibtessam Abu Arar.
Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee on Twitter challenged the account of the mother and her baby being killed in an Israeli strike, suggesting they died from Palestinian fire.
However, Adraee did not provide more details and the army refused to comment further.
Two multi-storey buildings in Gaza City were destroyed by Israeli raids. One, the Israeli military said, housed Hamas’s intelligence and security offices. The other housed Islamic Jihad facilities, Palestinian sources said.
One of them also housed the office of the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency. Ankara condemned the strike.
A small armed pro-Hamas group in Gaza, the Protectors of Al-Aqsa, said one of its men was killed in another air strike.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said two Israelis were wounded by shrapnel.
Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said Israel was prepared to intensify its attacks. He added that Islamic Jihad was trying to destabilise the border and blamed Hamas for failing to rein it in.
Islamic Jihad said in a statement that the rocket barrages were a response to Friday’s events and that Israel has been delaying the implementation of previous understandings brokered by Cairo.
In a joint statement, Hamas and Islamic Jihad said: “Our response will be broader and more painful if the enemy pursues its aggression.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli actions in Gaza.
Hamas said on Thursday that its Gaza chief, Yeyha Sinwar, had traveled to Cairo for talks on efforts to maintain calm along the border and alleviate hardship in the enclave.
“Egypt has stepped up its efforts with Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and Israel, but there is no conclusion yet,” said a Palestinian official familiar with Cairo’s mediation efforts.
The United Nations has also been part of the Cairo talks.
“The United Nations is working with Egypt and all sides to calm the situation,” said UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov. “This endless cycle of violence must end and efforts must accelerate to realise a political solution to the crisis in Gaza.”
Turkey condemns ‘disproportionate actions’ by Israel
Turkey called on the international community to act on the “disproportionate actions” by Israel in Gaza, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Sunday, after Israeli air strikes hit a building where Turkey’s Anadolu state news agency is located.
“We strongly condemn the non-differentiating attacks in Gaza
by Israel, which has caused many innocent people to lose their
lives or get injured, and targeted the Anadolu Agency’s building,” the ministry said in a statement.
“We urgently invite the international community to act to ease the tensions rising in the region with Israel’s disproportionate actions.”