‘Constant fear’ in Gaza as Israel continues assault for 4th day

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Islamic Jihad commander killed in latest Israeli attack as foreign mediators press ahead with ceasefire efforts.

At least two Palestinians have been killed and several others wounded on the fourth consecutive day of Israeli bombardment on the besieged Gaza Strip, Palestinian medical officials have said.

One of the people killed in Friday’s air raid on an apartment was a senior leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group (PIJ), local media reported. It brought the total number of Palestinians killed in this week’s bombardment to at least 33, including several children, with more than 110 also wounded.

Hundreds of rockets have also been launched from the Strip towards Israel, with a 70-year-old killed in central Israel.

Al Jazeera’s Youmna El Sayed, reporting from central Gaza, said the latest strike targeted a six-storey building in the “densely populated” al-Nasr neighbourhood.

Israel “targeted a residential apartment” which destroyed at least three floors of the building, she said.

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People react following an Israeli strike on an apartment building in central Gaza [Ashraf Amrah/Reuters]

“These people were not warned to get out of their homes, there was no warning missile fired prior to this targeting,” El Sayed added.

Salameh Maarouf, head of Gaza’s government information office, said the enclave has been “reeling from the bombardment”.

“The international community is turning a blind eye to our plight,” he told reporters in Gaza.

Maarouf said at least 139 buildings have been completely damaged so far, while more than 500 have been partially damaged.

One Gaza resident described the moment an Israeli missile hit her home.

“I was sitting peacefully at home, we received notification to evacuate, we had no idea what was going on,” she told Al Jazeera.

“My sons’ wives, grandchildren and I rushed out of the house leaving behind everything. I hardly managed to cover my head with a scarf,” she said.

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Funerals also continued to be held for the Palestinians who have been killed in the latest Israeli strikes.

Al Jazeera’s Issam Adwan, reporting from Gaza, said that “basically every city in Gaza has been targeted by Israeli airstrikes” on Friday.

“In the latest hours we’ve witnessed several Israeli airstrikes at many cities across the Gaza Strip,” Adwan said.

“One significant development … is the Israeli crime of targeting a residential building next to al-Aqsa hospital in Deir El Balah refugee camp, which severely damaged several departments of the hospital,” Adwan said. The attack caused patients, including women and children. to experience panic attacks, he added.

Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad and Hamas officials have reiterated the “unity of the resistance” in responding to Israeli attacks, he said.

Jennifer Austin, director of operations in the Gaza field office for the UN refugee agency (UNRWA), said the humanitarian situation is “already dire”.

“It’s a really bad situation coming off of 15 years of … an economic and social blockade,” Austin told Al Jazeera.

“The people here are not very hopeful … they’re at the end of their coping mechanisms,” she said.

Despite days of bombardment, UNRWA has been continuing their food distribution programme, as well as sanitation in the camps, Austin said. The agency’s 22 health centres are also still operating.

Earlier, Palestinians surveyed the wreckage caused by the Israeli attacks.

“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 air raid late on Thursday.

“Our situation is the same as that of any Palestinian citizen whose house is targeted and whose dream, built over the years, is destroyed,” he said.

He and his family would have been killed in the explosion if they had not run outside when they heard shouting, he said.

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

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A man is carried on a stretcher following an Israeli strike that killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in an apartment, in central Gaza [Ashraf Amrah/Reuters]

Al Jazeera’s Willem Marx, reporting from Ashkelon in Israel, said sirens were sounding throughout the area, warning residents of incoming fire.

“Possibly about two dozen rockets were fired from Gaza, among the more than 800 launched this week,” Marx said on Friday. “The Israeli military has confirmed to us it is moving residents away from these areas to get them to places less likely to be hit by this heavy rocket fire.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met army and intelligence officials early on Friday. “That will indicate how the Israeli military will proceed over the coming hours,” Marx said.

A rocket slammed into an open field in the south Jerusalem illegal settlement of Bat Ayin, said Josh Hasten, a spokesperson for the area. Videos showed Israelis jumping out of their cars and crouching beneath highway rails as sirens sounded.

An umbrella group of Gaza-based Palestinian factions known as the “joint operations room” said it launched rockets “in response to the assassinations and continued aggression toward the Palestinian people”.

Ceasefire talks

The cross-border exchanges this week have pitted Israel against Islamic Jihad, the second-largest armed group in Gaza after the territory’s Hamas rulers.

Meanwhile, Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have been working to broker a ceasefire.

Hamas officials told local media on Friday that Egypt was ramping up its diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting through “intensive contacts” with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad figures have sent mixed signals about the talks.

Senior official Ihasan Attaya complained on Friday that the mediators “have been unable to provide us with any guarantees”. A sticking point has been Islamic Jihad’s demands that Israel cease its policy of targeted killings, Attaya said.

This week’s battles began on Tuesday when Israel launched simultaneous air raids that killed three Islamic Jihad commanders along with at least 10 civilians – some of their wives, children and neighbours – as they slept in their homes.

Israel said it was retaliating for a barrage of rocket fire launched last week by Islamic Jihad after the death of one of its occupied West Bank members, Khader Adnan, from a hunger strike while in Israeli custody.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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