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This week’s battles began when Israel launched simultaneous air strikes that killed three Islamic Jihad commanders along with some of their wives and children as they slept in their homes.
Israeli fighter jets pounded targets in the Gaza Strip and Israel fired several rockets at Palestinians as the deadly confrontation continued for the fourth day in a row.
There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side on Friday as foreign mediators continued efforts to reach a ceasefire.
Al Jazeera’s Willem Marx, reporting from the Israeli city of Ashkelon, says sirens are sounding throughout the area, warning residents of an impending fire.
“Possibly about two dozen rockets were fired from Gaza – among more than 800 launched this week,” Marx said. “The Israeli military has confirmed to us that it is evacuating residents from these areas in order to move them to areas that are less likely to be hit by heavy rocket fire.”
Fighter jets are heard flying over the region, indicating that Israeli raids are underway. The past few days of fighting have killed 31 Palestinians in Gaza and a 70-year-old man in central Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with army and intelligence officials early Friday. “That will show how the Israeli military will proceed in the coming hours,” Marx said.
A rocket hit an open field in the southern Jerusalem settlement of Bat Ayin, said Josh Hasten, spokesman for the area. Videos show Israelis jumping out of their cars and ducking under highway tracks as sirens blare.
An umbrella group of Palestinian factions based in Gaza known as the “joint operations room” said it had launched rockets “in response to the killings and continued aggression towards the Palestinian people”.
Al Jazeera’s Youmna El Sayed, reporting from Gaza, said people were out to attend Friday prayers but concerns over Israeli strikes resonated with worshippers.
“There is always fear here. We expect everyone to stay at home after Friday prayers, but residences have been targeted for the past few days. The fear level here remains very high,” he said.
‘We were shocked’
During a lull in the fighting, Palestinians inspect the damage caused by Israeli attacks.
“The dream we built for our children, for our sons, is over,” said Belal Bashir, a Palestinian living in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, whose family home has been g a pile of rubble from an air strike on Thursday. .
“Our situation is the same as any Palestinian citizen whose home is targeted and whose dream, built over many years, is destroyed.”
He and his family would have been killed by the thunderous blast if they hadn’t run outside when they heard screams, he said.
“We were shocked because our house was targeted,” she added as she pulled her children’s dolls and blankets from a bomb crater.
This week’s cross-border exchange pits Israel against Islamic Jihad, the second-largest armed group in Gaza after the territory’s ruling Hamas.
As of Tuesday, Israel said its strikes had killed five senior Islamic Jihad figures. Islamic Jihad retaliated with hundreds of rockets fired into parts of Israel.
Israel’s military said it used air strikes to hit at least 215 targets in Gaza, including rocket and mortar launch sites.
Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations are working to broker a ceasefire.
Hamas officials told local media early Friday that Egypt had stepped up its diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting through “intensive contact” with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Islamic Jihad figures are sending mixed signals about the ceasefire talks.
Senior official Ihasan Attaya complained earlier on Friday that the mediators “did not give us any guarantees”. A sticking point is Islamic Jihad’s demands that Israel stop its policy of targeted killings, Attaya said.
This week’s clashes began when Israel launched, on Tuesday, simultaneous airstrikes that killed three Islamic Jihad commanders along with some of their wives and children as they slept in their house
Israel said it was retaliating for a barrage of rocket fire launched last week by Islamic Jihad following the death of one of its West Bank members, Khader Adnan, from a hunger strike while in Israeli custody.