At least seven people have been killed by Israeli occupation forces on Friday and Saturday in both air raids and border shootings, and nearly 70 others were injured, including three minors, while an Israeli settlers in Askalan was killed in the retaliation strikes.
According local sources a pregnant Palestinian mother and her one-year-old baby have been killed in a wave of Israeli air raids on the Gaza, shattering a month-long lull in violence in the besieged enclave.
Earlier in the day, Israeli jets launched a new round of airstrikes on the blockaded sliver, killing at least four other Palestinians, including a 14-month-old toddler, whose seriously wounded pregnant mother also lost her life hours later, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
At least four Palestinians, including the mother, infant and a 22-year-old male, Emad Naseer, were killed in the air raids, the health ministry in Gaza said, while 13 others were wounded.
Shrapnel from the Gaza rockets meanwhile wounded two Israelis; one of them was an 80-year-old woman.
The escalation reportedly began on Friday when a sniper from Islamic Jihad fired at Israeli troops across the border wounding two of them, according to the Israeli military. A retaliatory Israeli air strike then killed two fighters from Hamas.
Two other Palestinians protesting near the frontier were also killed by Israeli forces.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad responded with rocket fire on Saturday.
In a statement, the two groups promised a “broader and more painful” response if Israel “pursues its aggression”. Israeli forces retaliated with air raids and tank fire against more than 30 targets belonging to both groups.
Explosions in Gaza City, where busy streets were packed with shoppers making preparations for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, shook buildings and sent people fleeing for cover.
Ibtessam Abu Arar, aunt of the 14-month old infant who died in the Israeli raid, said: “The Israeli plane fired a missile near the house and the shrapnel entered the house and hit the poor baby.”
Across the border, sirens sent Israelis running to shelters as the blasts of rocket interceptions sounded overhead, and Jonathan Conricus, spokesman for Israeli military, said Israel was prepared to intensify its attacks.
The European Union called for an immediate de-escalation late on Saturday, and threw its backing behind efforts by Egypt and the United Nations to calm the situation.
“The rocket fire from Gaza towards Israel must stop immediately. A de-escalation of this dangerous situation is urgently needed to ensure that civilians’ lives are protected,” said Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for the EU.
“Israelis and Palestinians both have the right to live in peace, security and dignity,” she added in her statement.
The outbreak of fighting, which prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to convene security chiefs, comes days before Muslims begin Ramadan and Israelis celebrate Independence Day.
Israel is also due to host the 2019 Eurovision song contest finals in less than two weeks in Tel Aviv.