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As rockets rain down, Israel intensifies its strikes in Gaza

Gaza violence flares up

Israeli aircraft struck Islamic Jihad targets throughout the Gaza Strip on Wednesday while the militant group rained scores of rockets into Israel for a second straight day as the heaviest round of fighting in months showed no signs of ending. The death toll rose to 32 Palestinians, including a 7-year-old boy and two other minors.

The dead included six Palestinians from a single family who were killed in an Israeli airstrike at their house in Deir al-Balah town, central Gaza Strip, early Thursday, the health ministry said. It was the deadliest incident since the beginning of the current fighting.

The U.N.’s Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, rushed to Cairo to work with Egyptian mediators on arranging a truce. An Islamic Jihad delegation was also expected in Egypt “very soon,” an Egyptian intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

“I am very concerned about the ongoing and serious escalation between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel,” Mladenov said. “The U.N. is working to urgently de-escalate the situation.”

Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah said in an interview late Wednesday that his group was ready for a cease-fire if Israel accepted “conditions,” including a halt to targeted killings of Palestinian militant leaders.

"If we reach an agreement, I can even announce a cease-fire over the phone," he said.

The fighting erupted early Tuesday after Israel killed a senior commander in the Islamic Jihad militant group, along with his wife, as they slept in their Gaza home. Israeli officials say Bahaa Abu el-Atta was responsible for numerous rocket attacks and was plotting a large-scale border infiltration.

Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, responded by launching dozens of rockets toward Israel, some reaching as far as Tel Aviv, prompting Israel to carry out scores of airstrikes.

The rocket fire brought much of Israel to a standstill. Schools closed throughout southern Israel, people stayed home from work and large public gatherings were banned. Air raid sirens wailed during the day and into the evening. By Wednesday night, the army said 360 rockets had been fired at Israel.

In Gaza, schools and public institutions also were closed for a second day and there were few cars on the streets, with people mostly staying indoors. After nightfall, Gaza City resembled a ghost town, with streets empty and the whooshing sounds of outgoing rockets and explosions of Israeli airstrikes heard. Virtually the only vehicles on the roads were wailing ambulances.

In a scene that could fuel more violence, phone video shot by someone living nearby being circulated on social media showed neighbours and emergency workers frantically digging through the debris in search of bodies following the Thursday morning strike. Those killed included children, according to the health ministry in Gaza. Twelve people were also wounded.

Convening Israel’s top security officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped the fighting would end quickly.

“We are not bent on escalation but we will do whatever is necessary to restore the quiet and security to the residents of Israel, including the residents of the south,” he said.



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