Death toll climbs after more than 600 rockets fly between Gaza and Israel, both agree to another ceasefire
By Tamara Zieve and Saud Abu Ramadan
A Palestinian man was killed on Saturday night as medics said the death toll rose to four from ongoing Israeli army airstrikes on the Gaza Strip in retaliation for some 200 rockets fired by Palestinian militants at Israel.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra told reporters the 25-year-old Palestinian was killed by shrapnel while riding a three-wheel motorcycle in the northern Gaza Strip.
Al-Qedra added that more than 20 people were wounded during the operation targeting military posts and facilities belonging to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Earlier, a pregnant Gazan mother and her baby were killed in an Israeli airstrike, the health ministry said. Falastin Abu Arar, 37, succumbed to wounds she sustained in the strike on a military post close to her house while her 14-month-old baby Sebba was also killed and her other child was seriously injured.
The ministry also said that a civilian man named Mohammad Nasser, 22, was killed in an earlier Israeli airstrike on the northern Gaza Strip.
In addition, six Palestinians were injured in the Israeli strikes, three of them civilians, local media reported, while Israeli officials said two Israelis were injured by Gazan rockets.
The Gaza Joint Chamber of Military Operations, which comprises various Palestinian factions, including the Hamas movement, has claimed responsibility for launching the rockets and mortar shells into Israel.
The army said it believed it had killed five or six Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad members since Friday.
Israeli rescue service Magen David Adom said that a woman was seriously wounded by shrapnel in her face and limbs when a rocket fell near a school in the Israeli city of Kiryat Gat.
Police said that a 35-year-old man was injured in the Israeli city of Ashkelon.
Others were treated for injuries they sustained while running for shelter from rockets as well as for shock.
Sirens continuously wailed Saturday in Israeli communities near the border with Gaza, warning residents to take shelter. Sirens also rang out in communities in the south-center of the country.
Several Israeli houses sustained direct hits from rockets.
The Iron Dome aerial defense system intercepted dozens of projectiles.
Palestinian security sources and eyewitnesses said Israeli warplanes destroyed a six-story civilian building in western Gaza City on Saturday evening. Several neighboring buildings were seriously damaged but no injuries reported.
According to the security sources, the building housed the office of the Turkish Anatolia News Agency and the Prisoners Information Office in Gaza.
The army said its fighter jets struck approximately 70 targets belonging to the Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organizations along the Gaza Strip.
Army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters on a conference call that the army destroyed a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Rafah, in southern Gaza, by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The army also closed the Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings as well as the fishing zone around Gaza.
The escalation came after four Palestinians were killed and 51 injured in clashes with Israeli forces along the border fence on Friday. Two Israeli soldiers were wounded by Palestinian sniper fire.
The clashes came during weekly anti-Israel protests in the eastern Gaza Strip.
The strike came shortly after gunmen opened fire at Israeli army forces stationed on the border with the eastern Gaza Strip and wounded two soldiers. One of them sustained moderate injuries, while the other suffered light injuries.
The escalation comes following a period of relative calm amid Egyptian and United Nations efforts to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, following the most recent flare-up at the end of March.
The European Union released a statement backing the effort to calm the situation and calling for an end to the rocket fire from Gaza.
Hamas is classified by the EU, Israel and the U.S. as a terrorist organization.
Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on Gaza for over a decade, citing security reasons.
(Zieve reported from Tel Aviv, Ramadan from Gaza City.)
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