Israeli air strikes on Gaza continue as hopes for a ceasefire grow

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Israeli air strikes against Palestinian militant targets in the Gaza Strip continued for a third day Friday.

The Palestinian death toll rose to 30, authorities said, as foreign mediators pressed ahead with efforts to reach a ceasefire.

After the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group fired longer-range rockets toward Israel on Thursday – sending shrapnel slicing through apartments that killed one person – the Israeli military said its war planes struck Islamic Jihad rocket launchers.

Gaza residents reported explosions in farms near the southern city of Rafah. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Rubble after a rocket attack
A municipality worker cleans the rubble from outside a damaged house a day after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Rehovot, Israel (AP)

The cross-border exchanges this week have pitted Israel against Islamic Jihad, the second-largest militant group in Gaza after the territory’s Hamas rulers.

Since Tuesday, Israel says its strikes have killed five senior Islamic Jihad figures. Islamic Jihad has retaliated with more than 800 rockets fired toward densely populated parts of Israel.

In that time, Israel’s military said it has used air strikes to hit at least 215 targets in Gaza, including rocket and mortar launch sites and militants preparing to use them.

At least 30 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed in the fighting, including seven children and four women, according to the UN humanitarian office.

At least three of the children were killed by misfired Palestinian rockets, according to the Israeli military and the Palestinian Center for Rights.

Rocket fire in Gaza
There are fresh hopes of a ceasefire following days of air strikes (AP)

The civilians deaths have already drawn condemnation from the Arab world and concern from the United States and Europe.

In its past four wars against Hamas, Israel has repeatedly faced accusations of war crimes due to the high civilian death tolls and its use of heavy weapons against the crowded enclave.

Israel, in turn, contends that Palestinian militant groups use civilians as human shields by fighting in their midst.

Hamas, the de facto civilian government with an army of some 30,000 in Gaza, has sought to maintain its truce with Israel while attempting to keep abysmal living conditions in the blockaded enclave from spiralling since a devastating 11-day war in 2021 that killed over 260 Palestinians.

The group, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, has sat out this round of fighting – as it did a similar burst of violence last summer. In a sign of restraint, Israel has limited its air strikes to Islamic Jihad targets.

Both sides had seemed on the brink of a ceasefire before the eruption of Thursday’s violence. Friday’s relative quiet boosted hopes of progress.

Israel Palestinians
Rocket fire damage in the Israeli town of Sderot (AP)

Islamic Jihad figures have sent mixed signals about the ceasefire talks. Senior official Ihasan Attaya complained early on Friday that the mediators “have been unable to provide us with any guarantees”.

A sticking point has been Islamic Jihad’s demands that Israel cease its policy of targeted killings, the official said.

This week’s battles began when Israel launched, on Tuesday, simultaneous airstrikes that killed three Islamic Jihad commanders along with some of their wives and children as they slept in their homes.

Israel said it was retaliating for a barrage of rocket fire launched last week by Islamic Jihad following the death of one of its West Bank members, Khader Adnan, after going on hunger strike while in Israeli custody.

Islamic Jihad political bureau member Mohamad al-Hindi sounded more optimistic. From Cairo, where he travelled on Thursday to hash out the details of a possible truce, he told media that he hoped both sides “would reach a ceasefire agreement and honour it today”.

This week’s air strikes and rockets have shifted the focus of conflict back to Gaza after months of surging violence in the occupied West Bank under Israel’s most right-wing government in history.

Israel has been carrying out near-nightly arrest raids in the West Bank that have killed 109 Palestinians so far this year – the highest such death toll in two decades.

At least half of the dead are affiliated with militant groups, according to a tally by The Associated Press.

At least 20 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis during that time.

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