For the first time since Fighting escalated Across the border between Israel and Gaza, Palestinian militants on Friday fired rockets towards Jerusalem while Israel also continued air strikes on the Strip amid Egyptian efforts to reach a cease-fire.
Sirens sounded of missile strikes in the city of Beit Shemesh and areas in the hills on the outskirts of Jerusalem, ending a 12-hour lull in the fighting. Explosions were heard briefly in Jerusalem, possibly caused by Israeli missile defenses intercepting the missiles.
The Israeli army has not yet confirmed carrying out missile interception operations near Jerusalem. Local media reported that Israeli air defenses shot down two longer-range missiles. Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip were again hit by rocket fire.
Shortly thereafter, Israel carried out new air strikes against Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip. There has been no news so far of any injuries or deaths in the violence on Friday, which constitutes the latest setback in Egyptian attempts to reach a truce.
The Israeli forces launched a campaign of air strikes targeting leaders of the Islamic Jihad Movement since the early hours of Tuesday morning, accusing the movement of planning to launch attacks on Israel. The movement, the second largest faction in the sector after the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), which runs it, has fired about a thousand rockets since then, some of them towards the Israeli depth.
Over the past three days, at least 31 Palestinians were killed in the densely populated Gaza Strip, including women and children, while one person was killed in Israel when a rocket hit an apartment in a suburb of Tel Aviv.
In the small coastal Gaza Strip, residents woke up to empty streets hoping to catch some breath after days of explosions and air strikes.
“Our life has stopped”--
Amin Abu al-Khair hopes to reopen his fish restaurant, which has been closed for four days. “Our lives have stopped. The sea is closed to us, and we have stocks that we cannot sell. We hope to declare a truce,” he said.
Israelis still on alert risked a short break from bomb shelters at the start of the weekend and, after hours of quiet, prepared for Saturday, the Jewish holy day. But they ran for cover again when the sirens blew and ended the quiet of the rest of the morning.
The latest escalation came after violence that has been going on for more than a year, and since the beginning of this year has killed more than 140 Palestinians and at least 19 Israelis and foreigners, in what appeared to be a vicious circle of violence. The Islamic Jihad movement rejects coexistence with Israel, just as the senior Israeli government ministers, which is currently made up of a coalition of religious and national parties, reject the establishment of any Palestinian state on lands Israel occupied in 1967.
In the context of Egyptian efforts to mediate between the two sides, two Palestinian officials familiar with the course of the talks said that the two sides are discussing a draft proposed by Cairo. Among the terms of the truce, the Islamic Jihad movement wants Israel to commit to stopping air strikes targeting the movement’s leaders, but Israel refuses to do so.
Israel appears to be hoping that the group will stop hostilities unilaterally if the air strikes succeed in reducing its leadership and its stockpile of missiles. The Israeli air strikes injured at least 80 people, destroyed five buildings, and damaged more than 300 apartments in the Gaza Strip, whose population has been suffering from a worsening humanitarian crisis for decades.
The Israeli army said that about 200 missiles deviated from their targets, killing four people inside Gaza, including a ten-year-old girl. The Islamic Jihad movement denied that the rockets it fired missed its targets or resulted in deaths in the Strip.