Gaza City, May 15: An Israeli air raid in Gaza City killed at least seven Palestinians early Saturday in the deadliest single strike since the battle with Gaza's militant Hamas rulers erupted earlier this week.
Both sides pressed for an advantage as cease-fire efforts gathered strength.
The latest outburst of violence began in Jerusalem and has spread across the region, with Jewish-Arab clashes and rioting in mixed cities of Israel. There were also widespread Palestinian protests Friday in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot and killed 11 people. Israeli Air Strike on Syria's Latakia Province Kills Civilian.
The spiraling violence has raised fears of a new Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising at a time when there have been no peace talks in years.
Palestinians were set to mark Nakba day Saturday, when they commemorate the estimated 700,000 people who fled or were driven from their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation, raising the possibility of more unrest. Israel-Palestine Conflict: Violent Clashes Spread Across West Bank; About 10 Palestinians Killed in Unrest, Hundreds Injured.
US diplomat Hady Amr arrived in the region on Friday as part of Washington's efforts to de-escalate the conflict and the UN Security Council was set to meet Sunday.
But Israel turned down an Egyptian proposal for a one-year truce that Gaza's militant Hamas rulers had accepted, an Egyptian official said Friday on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations.
Since Monday night, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, which has pounded the Gaza Strip with strikes. In Gaza, at least 126 people have been killed, including 31 children and 20 women; in Israel, seven people have been killed, including a 6-year-old boy and a soldier.
Rocket fire from Gaza and Israel's bombardment of the blockaded Palestinian territory continued into early Saturday, when an airstrike on a three-story house on the edge of a refugee camp in Gaza City killed at least seven Palestinians — the highest number of fatalities in a single hit.
Said Alghoul, who lives nearby, said Israeli warplanes dropped at least three bombs on the home without warning residents in advance. “I could not endure and ran back to my home,” he said. Rescuers called a bulldozer to dig through the rubble for survivors or bodies.
Shortly afterward, Hamas said it fired a salvo of rockets at southern Israel in response to the airstrike.
A furious Israeli barrage early Friday killed a family of six in their house and sent thousands fleeing to U.N.-run shelters. The military said the operation involved 160 warplanes dropping some 80 tons of explosives over the course of 40 minutes and succeeded in destroying a vast tunnel network used by Hamas.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the military aims to minimize collateral damage in striking military targets. But measures it takes in other strikes, such as warning shots to get civilians to leave, were not “feasible this time.”
Military correspondents in Israeli media said the military believed dozens of militants were killed inside the tunnels. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, but the Israeli military said the real number is far higher.
Gaza's infrastructure, already in widespread disrepair because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas seized power in 2007, showed signs of breaking down further, compounding residents' misery.