Egypt began mediating an end to two days of cross-border fighting in Gaza on Wednesday that saw Israel’s air force hit Islamic Jihad targets and Palestinian factions in the enclave launch salvoes of rockets across the border as far as Tel Aviv, Reuters reports.
The second round of cross-border fire in a week came after Israel launched strikes, on Tuesday, against three Islamic Jihad commanders it said had planned attacks against Israelis, following months of escalating violence.
Cairo, which has mediated a truce in previous rounds of fighting, had begun mediating a ceasefire, Islamic Jihad spokesman, Dawoud Shehab, told Reuters.
Israel was examining the Egyptian proposals, Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, told public broadcaster, Kan.
The Israeli military said it had attacked rocket sites pre-emptively as blasts rocked different points including what witnesses described as a training camp in the northern part of the Gaza Strip and an open area in the south.
Minutes after the strikes, sirens sounded in Israel – initially among border communities but soon also in and around the commercial capital, Tel Aviv, 60 km (37 miles) north of Gaza.
More than 300 rockets were fired, 66 of which fell short in Gaza, a military spokesman said.
The joint command of Gaza’s militant groups, which includes Islamic Jihad and the enclave’s Hamas rulers, claimed responsibility for the salvoes.
However, Israeli military officials said they had seen no signs that Hamas, which is believed to have hundreds of rockets in its arsenal, had fired any missiles itself.
They said Israeli strikes were directed only at targets linked to the smaller Islamic Jihad group, an Iranian-based militant organisation based in Gaza which has been increasingly active in the West Bank for the past year.
In total, 20 Palestinians, including at least five women and five children, as well as three senior Islamic Jihad commanders, and four gunmen have been killed since Israel conducted a series of pre-dawn strikes on Tuesday.
Among the fatalities, on Wednesday, was a 10 year-old girl, although the circumstances of her death were unclear.
The joint command of militants said the rocket salvoes were retaliation for the Israeli strikes, which it described as “a savage and treacherous bombardment of civilian houses that led to several innocent martyrs.”
Multiple trails could be seen ascending in Gaza as rockets were launched. Mid-air explosions signalled interceptions by Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defence system, and there were no reports of casualties in Israel.
Last week, Islamic Jihad fired more than 100 rockets across the border and Israeli jets hit targets in Gaza in hours-long exchange, following the death of an Islamic Jihad hunger striker in Israeli custody.
Even before Wednesday’s rocket barrage began, as many as 30 per cent of residents of Israeli border communities had been evacuated as a precaution, municipal head, Gadi Yarkoni, told Kan radio.
In Gaza, businesses and schools remained closed; Israel kept its two commercial and people crossings with Gaza closed. The move would stop the entry of goods, fuel and humanitarian aid as well as patients, who receive treatment in hospitals in the West Bank and Israel.
Earlier on Wednesday, Israeli forces killed two Palestinians who opened fire on them in Qabatiya, in the Occupied West Bank. Islamic Jihad claimed the two as members. The army said an assault rifle was recovered from their vehicle.