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Four killed as Israel hits back after Gaza rocket barrage

Four Palestinians, including a pregnant woman and her baby daughter, were killed, while three Israelis were wounded by rocket fire.

Israeli airstrike hits Gaza City (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Israeli airstrike hits Gaza City (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Palestinian militants have fired more than 200 rockets into Israel, drawing dozens of retaliatory air strikes on targets across the Gaza Strip in a round of intense fighting that broke a month-long lull.

Four Palestinians, including a pregnant woman and her baby daughter, were killed, while three Israelis, including an 80-year-old woman, were wounded by rocket fire.

The fighting came as leaders from Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, and the smaller armed faction Islamic Jihad, were in Cairo for talks with Egyptian mediators aimed at preventing a fraying ceasefire from collapsing.

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An Israeli air strike on a building in Gaza City (Khalil Hamra/AP)

It comes at a sensitive time for Israel, which is to mark its Memorial Day and Independence Day holiday this week, before hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in the middle of the month.

Heavy fighting could overshadow Eurovision and potentially deter international travellers from attending.

Israel and Hamas, an Islamic group that opposes Israel’s existence, have fought three wars and dozens of smaller flare-ups of violence since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.

They engaged in several days of heavy fighting in March before Egypt brokered a truce in which Israel agreed to ease a crippling blockade on Gaza in exchange for a halt in rocket fire.

In recent days, Hamas accused Israel of reneging on its pledges as militants began to fire rockets into Israel.

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A damaged house in the southern Israeli city of Kiryat Gat (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Air raid sirens wailed across southern Israel throughout the day and into the evening as barrages of rockets were repeatedly fired.

Retaliatory air strikes caused large explosions across Gaza, as plumes of smoke rose into the air.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said a 14-month-old girl, Seba Abu Arar, was killed in an Israeli air strike that hit her home in east Gaza City. Her pregnant mother, 37, was severely wounded and died later in hospital, the ministry added. Another child was injured.

“They were sitting at the yard in their house with their mother. They were shocked by a missile landing on them,” said Abu Nidal Abu Arar, a relative living next door. “This occupation is criminal.”

Another Palestinian was killed in the northern Gaza Strip. Officials identified the victim Saturday as Khaled Abu Qlaiq, 25. Local media reports said he was travelling on a motorbike when a drone missile hit him.

In Israel, medical officials said an 80-year-old woman was severely wounded by rocket fire, a 50-year-old man was moderately wounded by shrapnel and a teenage boy was slightly hurt as he ran for cover.

In the morning, Gaza’s Health Ministry said a 22-year-old Palestinian man was killed by an Israeli air strike, and 13 other Palestinians were wounded.

Israeli police said a house in the coastal city of Ashkelon was damaged.

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Residents inspect the damage caused by a rocket in the Israeli city of Ashkelon (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

The Israeli military accused the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad of instigating the latest round of violence by shooting and wounding two Israeli soldiers on Friday.

It said the shooting was not co-ordinated with Hamas, but said it holds Hamas, as the territory’s ruling power, responsible for all fire emanating from Gaza.

By nightfall, the army said militants had fired well over 200 rockets into Israel. It said dozens of the rockets were intercepted by its Iron Dome rocket defence system, but it closed roads near the Gaza border to civilian traffic and closed a popular beach as a security precaution.

The military said it struck 120 targets in Gaza, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad military compounds and a “high-end Islamic Jihad tunnel” that it said crossed the border and was built to carry out an attack inside Israel.

Late on Saturday, an air strike hit a six-storey commercial and residential building. Journalists said the building housed the office of Turkey’s news agency Anadolu.

COGAT, the Israeli defence body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said it was closing the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast and sealing Israel’s two land crossings with Gaza.

The crossings are used by Palestinian medical patients to enter and exit the territory, and provide the main entry for cargo into the blockaded territory.

The EU ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, criticised the rocket attacks, saying “firing indiscriminately against civilians (is) unacceptable”.

PA

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