Israel and Gaza militants trade heavy fire as hopes of truce fade

AFP  /  May 12, 202

Outbreak of violence – now in its fourth day – has killed dozens, all but one of them Palestinian.

Israel and Gaza militants have traded heavy fire as hopes faded of securing a truce to end days of fighting during which dozens have been killed, all but one of them Palestinian.

There have been international calls for de-escalation, with the EU pushing for an “immediate comprehensive ceasefire”.

Israel announced it was “striking Islamic Jihad targets” in the densely populated Palestinian territory, while AFP journalists saw airstrikes hit Gaza City.

Sirens warning of incoming fire, meanwhile, rang out in Israeli communities close to the border with the Gaza Strip, as well as blaring in an Israeli settlement near Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank.

Violence broke out Tuesday when Israel killed three top members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, while subsequent strikes have killed two other senior figures.

Islamic Jihad said the latest rocket fire, seen by AFP journalists, was a “response to the assassinations and the continued aggression against the Palestinian people”.

At least 31 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza’s health ministry, including militants and several civilians, including children. A rocket killed one civilian in the central Israeli city of Rehovot on Thursday.

Daily life in the coastal territory, ruled by the Hamas militant group, has largely come to a standstill, while Israel has told its citizens near Gaza to stay close to bomb shelters.

In Gaza’s central Deir al-Balah area, a farmer, Belal Basher, stood beside the ruins of the home he said was hit by multiple Israeli strikes. “Our situation is the same as that of any Palestinian citizen whose house is targeted and whose dream, built over the years, is destroyed,” the 33-year-old said.

Earlier, there had been cautious optimism that there could be a truce, with an Islamic Jihad source saying a deal drawn up by Cairo had been circulated among the group’s leadership. But the source subsequently said Israel was “disrupting Egypt’s efforts for a ceasefire”.

The decision to renew air strikes on Gaza this week was authorized by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned to power in December alongside extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies.

The violence has wounded more than 90 people in Gaza, according to the latest health ministry toll.

Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency service has treated five people who were hit by shrapnel, glass or suffered blast injuries from rocket fire.

In Rehovot, an 82-year-old resident. Ran Lev, said he was heading to the bomb shelter when a rocket hit that killed his neighbour. “The entire apartment was seriously shaking. All the photo frames fell,” he said.

The US, which along with Brussels has blacklisted Islamic Jihad and Hamas, urged that steps be “taken to ensure that violence is reduced”.

The Israeli military said it had hit 170 Islamic Jihad targets this week, while more than 860 rockets have been fired from Gaza.

Israel said a quarter of the rockets fell inside Gaza and killed four, including three children, an accusation Islamic Jihad and Hamas did not respond to when approached by AFP.

This week’s escalation is the worst since August, when 49 Palestinians in Gaza were killed in three days of fighting between Islamic Jihad and Israel. At least 19 of those were children, according to the UN, while rocket fire wounded three people in Israel.

It followed multiple wars fought between Israel and Hamas since the group took control of Gaza in 2007.

An Israeli blockade imposed since then has made it impossible for the vast majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents to leave the territory, where poverty and unemployment are rife.