Israel carried out a major wave of strikes across the Gaza Strip overnight in response to some 150 rockets fired at its territory, leaving three Palestinians including a toddler dead in another severe flare-up of violence, officials said Thursday.
A rocket hit Eshkol Regional Council at 06:00 am Thursday, critically injuring a 30 year old woman and lightly wounding another man from shrapnel. The ministry said the militant and the civilians were killed in separate incidents.
In exchange for any truce, Israel wants to recover the bodies of two soldiers killed in Gaza and gain freedom for two of its civilians who wandered into the enclave.
Their deaths come as violence continues to flare up between Israel and Gaza's rulers from the Islamic militant Hamas.
Israeli forces have launched three military assaults on the Gaza Strip since 2008.
More than 100 rockets have been fired into Israel since yesterday from the Gaza strip.
Neither Hamas nor Israel appears keen on another full-blown conflict.
Israel's defence chief said last month that Gaza's only commercial border crossing, Keren Shalom, would reopen if calm persisted. "Despite this, IDF activity continued throughout the day and the cabinet ordered the army to continue to act against terrorist elements in Gaza", the official said.
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It said the Palestinian resistance had fired a large number of rockets at "enemy positions in the Gaza envelope". However, shortly after the Palestinian statement indicating a cessation of violence, another round rocket sirens sounded across the southern Israeli community of Kibbutz Kissufim signalling incoming projectile.
The escalation has taken place against a backdrop of indirect talks in Cairo on a long-term ceasefire plan. "Our collective efforts have prevented the situation from exploding until now".
Neither the United Nations nor Egypt has publicly discussed its plans for a renewed Gaza cease-fire, but they said it would bring economic relief to Gaza's 2 million residents experiencing shortages under crippling blockades.
Hamas military wing, Ezzeddin al-Qassam Brigades, identified the victims of Tuesday's Israeli strike as Ahmed Murjan and Abdel-Hafez al-Silawi.
After a few hours of relative quiet, Israeli forces targeted western Gaza City on Thursday evening, the Gaza health ministry reported, adding that at least seven Palestinians were injured. Israel has imposed a crippling 11-year blockade on the Gaza Strip in response, during which time it has waged three wars in Gaza, most recently in 2014. That was followed by the rocket fire and then the Israeli strikes.
The incident occurred while a group of senior Hamas leaders from overseas were visiting Gaza to discuss the ceasefire efforts with local leaders.
More than 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces - most during weekly protests at which thousands of Palestinians have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel. The majority were killed during protests and clashes, but others have died in airstrikes or tank fire. One Israeli soldier was killed by a Gaza sniper during this period.