Israeli forces have shot dead two Palestinians and wounded three others in the occupied West Bank as air raids hit the Gaza Strip for a fifth straight day.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said the Israeli attack on Saturday occurred in the Balata refugee camp in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
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Both men – identified as Adnan Wasim Yousef al-Araj, 19, and Saed Jihad Shaker Mashah, 32 – were killed by gunshots to the head, it said. One of the wounded was a woman in her 50s who was shot multiple times.
The Israeli army said it was a “counterterrorism” operation targeting operatives who had been planning attacks on soldiers.
“Armed gunmen fired at the forces who responded with riot dispersal means and live fire,” it said. “Two of the terrorists were targeted.”
The Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said the two men killed in the raid were members of its armed wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
The deadly raid on Nablus is the latest in a series of incursions in the occupied West Bank since the start of the year.
Another night of bombardment
In Gaza, meanwhile, Israel carried out air strikes for a fifth day while sirens sounded in southern Israel after rockets were launched from the besieged territory.
“We witnessed another night full of bombardments and the launching of rockets has intensified in the early morning of Saturday,” said Al Jazeera’s Youmna ElSayed, reporting from the enclave.
Israeli strikes targeted several cities across the strip, including two neighbourhoods of Gaza City that were completely destroyed, she said.
The Israeli military said it struck command centres belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) armed group and rocket launchers in its pre-dawn operations. Grainy black and white aerial footage it released showed explosions and clouds of smoke rising from bombed sites.
A few hours later, rockets were fired from Gaza, setting off sirens and sending Israelis in border communities running to bomb shelters.
‘Assassinations and bombings’
Islamic Jihad promised a further onslaught. “As assassinations and the bombing of apartments and safe houses continue, the Palestinian resistance will renew its rocket fire … to emphasize the continuation of the confrontation,” it said in a statement.
While no casualties have been reported from both sides on Saturday, at least 33 Palestinians have been killed and 147 wounded since the bombardments started on Tuesday. The death toll includes at least six children.
Six PIJ leaders have been killed since the latest violence erupted after Israeli forces launched an assassination campaign against the group. Simultaneous air raids on Tuesday killed PIJ commanders along with at least 10 civilians – some of their wives, children and neighbours – as they slept in their homes.
PIJ, the largest armed group in Gaza after the ruling Hamas, has since fired almost 1,000 rockets, some deep into Israel. At least two Israelis have died.
Al Jazeera’s Willem Marx, reporting near the Israeli city of Ashkelon, said it was relatively quiet by midday in the area.
“We’re hearing the occasional Israeli drone above our heads. We have not seen or heard any rockets but the warning sirens that indicate the presence of rockets began at about 5am. They have sounded every so often, particularly in the smaller communities on the eastern edge of the Gaza Strip,” said Marx.
Israel said it was retaliating for a barrage of rocket fire launched last week by Islamic Jihad after the death of one of its West Bank members, Khader Adnan, from a hunger strike. Adnan was protesting against his detention in Israeli custody without trial.
The latest fire exchange comes as Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations seek to secure a ceasefire.
“Until last night people were hopeful as Egyptian and local sources talked about a humanitarian ceasefire,” ElSayed said, adding the truce would have allowed the entrance of crucial medical supplies and fuel into the Gaza Strip where hospitals are now overwhelmed.
“All these hopes of a ceasefire were blown away with the intensity of the exchange of bombardment on both sides,” she said.
Israeli officials told media efforts to broker a truce were still under way on Saturday, but Israel has ruled out the conditions presented by Islamic Jihad in the talks.
Israel has said only that quiet will be answered with quiet, while Islamic Jihad has been reportedly pressing Israel to agree to halt targeted assassinations, among other demands. If the rocket fire continues from Gaza, Israeli officials told local media, “the strikes [on Gaza] will continue and intensify”.