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Palestinian militants fire hundreds of rockets into Israel after Gaza air strikes kill at least 10 civilians

Palestinian militants fired hundreds of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Wednesday in response to a series of Israeli airstrikes that have killed 21 Palestinians, including three senior militants and at least 10 civilians.

A state-run Egyptian TV station announced that Egypt, a frequent mediator between the sides, had brokered a cease-fire, but the truce efforts appeared to falter as fighting intensified on Wednesday evening.

The heaviest fighting in months began on Tuesday morning with Israeli air strikes aimed at militant faction Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which killed three of the group’s leaders along with 10 civilians, including four children.

In a prime-time TV address, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Israel had dealt a harsh blow to the militants. But he cautioned: “This round is not over.”

“We say to the terrorists and those who send them. We see you everywhere. You can’t hide, and we choose the place and time to strike you,” he said, adding that Israel would also decide when calm is restored.

Throughout Wednesday, rocket fire set off air-raid sirens throughout southern and central Israel, some 50 miles from Gaza. Residents had been bracing for an attack since Israel launched its first airstrikes.

Despite growing fears that the region is being pushed towards all-out war, Israel has avoided attacks on the ruling Hamas militant group, targeting only the smaller and more militant Islamic Jihad faction.

Hamas, meanwhile, appeared to remain on the sidelines. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since the Islamic militant group took control of Gaza in 2007.

Late on Wednesday, Egypt’s Extra News television channel, which has close ties to Egyptian security agencies, said it had brokered a cease-fire. Egyptian intelligence frequently mediates between Israeli and Palestinian militants.

*** BESTPIX *** Israel's Iron Dome air defence system intercepts rockets launched from Gaza City, on May 10, 2023. Israel's army and Gaza militants traded heavy cross-border fire on May 10, with 22 Palestinians killed over two days amid the worst escalation of violence to hit the coastal territory in months. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)
Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system intercepts rockets launched from Gaza City (Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Israeli officials confirmed that Egypt was trying to facilitate a cease-fire. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes diplomacy, they said Israel would evaluate the situation based on actions on the ground, not declarations.

Islamic Jihad said it would continue firing rockets. Mohamad al-Hindi, an official with the group, said a sticking point in the talks was that the Palestinians wanted an Israeli commitment to stop targeted killing operations, such as the ones that killed three top Islamic Jihad commanders early Tuesday.

As rockets streaked through the sky, Israeli TV stations showed air defense systems intercepting them above Tel Aviv.

Israeli officials said over 400 rockets had been fired as of Wednesday evening. Most, they said, were intercepted or fell in open areas, but Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said about one-quarter had been misfired and fallen inside Gaza.

Three people were hurt running for shelter, and four homes in southern Israel were damaged by rocket strikes.

The army said that schools would remain closed and restrictions on large gatherings would remain in place in southern Israel until at least Friday, while residents were instructed to stay near bomb shelters.

BEIT LAHIA, GAZA - MAY 10: A building destroyed by Israeli rocket attack in Beit Lahia, Gaza on May 10, 2023. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A building destroyed by Israeli rocket attack in Beit Lahia, Gaza (Photo: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Israeli aircraft hit targets in Gaza for the second straight day, killing at least five Palestinians. The Israeli military said its warplanes targeted dozens of rocket launchers, arms warehouses and other targets across the enclave. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said four of the dead were militants.

A 10-year-old Palestinian girl named Layan Mdoukh was killed in a blast at her home in Gaza City in unclear circumstances on Wednesday.

The initial Israeli airstrikes on Tuesday that set off the exchange of fire killed three senior Islamic Jihad militants and at least 10 civilians — most of them women and children. The Israeli military has said its attacks were focused on Islamic Jihad militant infrastructure in the coastal enclave.

Israel says the airstrikes are a response to a barrage of rocket fire launched last week by Islamic Jihad in response to the death of one of its members from a hunger strike while in Israeli custody.

Israel says it is trying to avoid conflict with Hamas, the more powerful militant group that rules Gaza, and limit the fighting to Islamic Jihad.

GAZA CITY, GAZA - MAY 09: Palestinians attend funeral ceremony of 13 people, including women and children, killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Gaza on May 09, 2023. Tariq Izzeddin, one of the leaders of the Jerusalem Brigades, and his two children were also killed during the airstrikes. (Photo by Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Funeral in Gaza on Tuesday for one of the 13 people who died in Israeli airstrikes (Photo: Getty)

In a statement, an umbrella organization of Palestinian factions in Gaza, including Hamas, said the campaign against Israel — which it dubbed “Avenging the Free” — involved firing hundreds of rockets in retaliation for Israel’s killing of the three Islamic Jihad commanders as well as several civilians.

“The resistance is ready for all options,” the factions said. “If (Israel) persists in its aggression and arrogance, dark days await it.”

Still, it remained unclear whether Hamas had joined the fray. If the ruling militant group enters the fighting, the risk of a full-blown conflict would increase.

Israel came under international criticism for the high civilian toll inflicted on Tuesday, which included wives of two of the militant commanders, some of their children and a dentist who lived in one of the targeted buildings along with his wife and son.

In past conflicts, rights groups have accused Israel of committing war crimes due to high civilian deaths. Israel says it does its utmost to avoid civilian casualties and holds militant groups responsible because they operate in heavily populated residential areas.

Additional reporting by AP

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