An Israeli missile strike in the Gaza Strip killed six members of a Palestinian family on Thursday, all of them civilians, medical officials and residents said, bringing the death toll in the territory from a 48-hour surge in fighting to 32.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the pre-dawn incident in Deir al-Balah, which came as cross-border shelling exchanges continued despite a ceasefire offer by the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.
Israel killed an Islamic Jihad field commander on Tuesday, sparking cross-border rocket salvoes by the militant group and further Israeli strikes. Medics said 32 Palestinians have been killed, at least a third of them civilians.
Those killed in Thursday’s attack on a home in Deir al-Balah included a woman and a child, medical officials said. Another 12 people were wounded, they said.
In response to the killing of Atta and his wife, Islamic Jihad fired about 200 rockets into Israel on Tuesday, resuming on Wednesday morning.
“We will not allow the enemy to return to the policy of cowardly assassination under any circumstances,” said a statement by the ‘Joint Command’ of Palestinian armed factions.
The joint command includes Hamas, the much larger Islamist group that controls Gaza. But while Hamas appeared to be giving the green light for Islamic Jihad to continue, the larger group did not appear to be launching rockets itself, a decision that could reduce the likelihood of the violence escalating further.
Hamas and Israel have managed to defuse previous confrontations and to avoid a full-scale conflict for the past five years, following three wars from 2008-2014. In the past Israel has held Hamas responsible for rockets fired by any group in Gaza, but this time it appeared to be avoiding Hamas targets.
UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov said he was “very concerned about the ongoing and serious escalation between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel, following the targeted killing of one of the group’s leaders inside Gaza yesterday.
“The indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars against population centers is absolutely unacceptable and must stop immediately,” he said.