At least six Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air attacks that pounded the Gaza Strip for a second straight day, according to Palestinian health officials.
The renewed bombardment on Wednesday prompted a barrage of retaliatory rocket fire from the besieged enclave towards southern Israel.
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Egypt, which has mediated a truce in previous rounds of fighting, had begun mediating a ceasefire, Islamic Jihad spokesman Dawoud Shehab told the Reuters news agency. There was no immediate confirmation from the Israeli side.
The Israeli air raids struck multiple locations across the besieged enclave, including in the south and the north, and a number of sites belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) movement.
The PIJ did not confirm that the victims were members of its group.
Reporting from Gaza City, Al Jazeera’s Youmna El Sayed said locals were on “high alert”, with a lot of worries as schools and public and private facilities have closed and people try to stay indoors following a series of attacks on Tuesday that killed at least 15 people, including several civilians.
“There is a very high sense of tension and worry among the residents of Gaza since the Israeli attacks yesterday. Everything in Gaza is closed and people have remained in their homes,” she added.
Arabic media reported that Hamas, the group running the Gaza Strip, said the rockets launched from there were an answer to the “massacre committed by the Israeli occupation”, as Palestinian media reported that the retaliatory rockets came “under the name of the [Gaza] factions’ joint room” which includes Hamas and other Gaza-based armed groups.
Israeli journalist Barak Ravid quoted Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari as saying that there was no immediate indication that Hamas was involved in the fighting.
On the Israeli side, authorities told citizens living in towns along the Gaza fence to evacuate or remain inside shelters.
Reporting from Ashkelon in southern Israel, Al Jazeera’s Willem Marx said the Israeli army was on high alert as sirens were initiated. Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defence system also intercepted rockets.
“In the last few moments, there’ve been instructions [from authorities] for people to stay inside shelters because of these barrages,” he said. “A lot of communities have been encouraged to move away from here.”
The bombardment comes a day after Israeli forces attacked Gaza City and its environs, killing 15 people, including four children, in what they said was an operation targeting three PIJ commanders.
In an overnight attack, Israeli forces also killed two people in the occupied West Bank town of Qabatiya, south of Jenin. The health ministry identified them as Ahmad Jamal Assaf, 19, and Warani Walid Qatanat, 24, the Palestinian news agency WAFA reported. A 17-year-old Palestinian was shot in the chest and taken to hospital.