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Israeli airstrikes on Gaza continue even as hopes for a cease-fire grow

GAZA CITY (AP) – The most violent confrontation in months between Israel and Palestinian militants continued for a third straight day yesterday, as Israeli warplanes struck targets in the Gaza Strip and militants fired rockets toward Jerusalem and southern Israel.

There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side yesterday, as foreign mediators pressed ahead with efforts to reach a cease-fire. The past few days of fighting have killed 31 Palestinians in Gaza and a 70-year-old man in central Israel.

A burst of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip sent warning sirens wailing near the contested capital of Jerusalem, breaking a 12-hour lull that had raised hopes that Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations (UN) could soon be able to broker a cease-fire. Residents in Israeli settlements surrounding Jerusalem reported hearing explosions and seeing black smoke rising from the hills after an apparent missile interception.

The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was conducting a security assessment. The Israeli military said its warplanes struck rocket launchers. Gaza residents reported blasts in farms near the southern city of Rafah.

The cross-border exchanges this week have pitted Israel against Islamic Jihad, the second-largest militant group in Gaza after the territory’s Hamas rulers. Since Tuesday, Israel says its strikes have killed five senior Islamic Jihad figures. In that time, Israel’s military said it has used airstrikes to hit at least 215 targets in Gaza, including rocket and mortar launch sites and militants preparing to use them.

Israeli bombs and shells have destroyed 47 housing units, and damaged 19 so badly they were uninhabitable, leaving 165 Palestinians homeless, Gaza’s housing ministry reported. In addition, nearly 300 homes sustained some damage. Palestinians yesterday surveyed the wreckage wrought by the fighting.

“The dream that we built for our children, for our sons, has ended,” said Belal Bashir, a Palestinian living in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, whose family home was reduced to a heap of rubble in an airstrike late on Thursday. He and his family would have been killed in the thundering explosion if they hadn’t ran outside when they heard shouting, he said.

“We were shocked that our house was targetted,” he added as he pulled his young children’s dolls and blankets from a bomb crater.

Palestinians inspect the rubble of a house after it was struck by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip. PHOTO: AP
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