Six Palestinians and one Israeli killed during latest flare-up between armed factions in Gaza and Israeli army.
Israeli warplanes and gunboats continued to target the Gaza Strip on Sunday, as rockets were also fired from Gaza into southern Israel.
The latest violence comes a day after at least six Palestinians, including a pregnant mother and her one-year-old baby, and one Israeli, were killed in tit-for-tat strikes and rocket attacks.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from the Israeli side of the fence with Gaza, said the escalation is “far from over”.
“This is potentially a dangerous and long, major military escalation,” he said. “The Israeli media is quoting senior defence sources as saying they expect this fighting to last some days.”
Israeli media reported Gaza fighters over the past two days fired more than 400 rockets at towns and cities in southern Israel and that Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile system had intercepted more than 250 of them.
The government media office in Gaza said Israeli warplanes carried out about 150 raids, in addition to artillery shelling targeting 200 civilian landmarks in the Gaza Strip, including residential buildings, mosques, shops and media institutions.
About 40 Palestinians were wounded in the attacks, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
One of the buildings destroyed had housed the Gaza bureau of the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency.
“We call on the international community to act swiftly in order to ease tensions that have increased due to Israel’s disproportionate actions in the region,” said a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement.
|An explosion is pictured among buildings during an Israeli air raid on Gaza City [Mahmud Hams/AFP]|
On Sunday, the Israeli army denied that Falastine Abu Arar, the 37-year-old pregnant mother, and her infant daughter Siba, were killed by Israeli forces, instead blaming a misfiring of a Palestinian rocket.
Two men, 22-year-old Imad Nseir and 25-year-old Khaled Abu Qaleeq, were also killed by Israeli air raids on Saturday night.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad group said the two men killed overnight on Sunday, Mahmoud Issa, 26 and Fawzi Bawadi, 23, were members of its armed wing.
A 58-year-old Israeli man was killed by a rocket strike on the city of Ashkelon, according to Israeli police.
|A rocket fired from Gaza towards Israel on May 4 [Bashar Talib/Reuters]|
The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov called on all parties to “immediately deescalate and return to the understandings of the past few months”.
“I am deeply concerned by yet another dangerous escalation in Gaza and the tragic loss of life,” he said.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of all those who were killed, and I wish a speedy recovery to the injured.”
The latest flare-up came after four other Palestinians were killed in two separate incidents on Friday.
Two of them were shot dead during the weekly Great March of Return protests near the Israeli fence east of Gaza, while an air raid targeting a Hamas outpost killed two members of the movement’s armed wing.
The Israeli army said the air raid was in response to a shooting that wounded two of its soldiers near the fence.
|Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City [Suhaib Salem/Reuters]|
Armed factions in Gaza, who are otherwise known as the Joint Operations Room and include the military wing of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, vowed on Saturday to “extend its response” if the Israeli army continued to target the strip.
In a statement on Saturday, the Joint Operations Room said: “Our response will be broader and more painful in the event [Israel’s] extends in aggression, and we will remain the protective shield of our people and our land.”
Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.
Following heavy fighting in late March, Israel agreed to ease the blockade in exchange for a halt to rocket fire. This included expanding a fishing zone off Gaza’s coast, increasing imports into Gaza and allowing the Gulf state of Qatar to deliver aid to the cash-strapped territory.
But Israel scaled back the fishing zone this week in response to rocket fire and shut the border crossings entirely on Saturday after barrages from the enclave.
Israel is due to celebrate its independence day this month, and will also host the Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv.
This marks a “politically sensitive time in Israel”, Harry Fawcett said, adding that there has been speculation both within and outside of Gaza that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have timed the launching of rockets to express their frustrations over Israel failing to uphold its end of agreements.
“Other reported terms within that framework including increasing the amount of Qatari funding coming into Gaza has not happened,” he said.
“Various reported understandings about easing economic restrictions, creating jobs, looking to improving electricity flow in Gaza– there’s been nothing on those lines.”
About two million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered years of blockade as well as recent foreign aid cuts. Unemployment stands at 52 percent, according to the World Bank, and poverty is rampant.
|Smoke rises during Israeli air strikes in Gaza on May 4 [Suhaib Salem/Reuters]|
|A ball of fire is seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on May 4 Suhaib Salem/Reuters]|
|A Palestinian man sits on debris outside a building that was damaged in Israeli air raids in Gaza City on May 5 [Suhaib Salem/Reuters]|
|Relatives of Palestinian Imad Nseir, who was killed in an Israeli air raid, mourn during his funeral in the northern Gaza Strip on May 4 [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]|
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES