GAZA — Israeli fighter jets pounded targets in the Gaza Strip and more rockets were launched into Israel by Palestinians as the deadly confrontation continued for a fourth straight day.
Reports said rockets fired by the Palestinian militants have reached an area close to Jerusalem for the first time in the four days of fighting.
There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side on Friday as foreign mediators pressed ahead with efforts to reach a ceasefire.
An Al Jazeera correspondent, reporting from the Israeli town of Ashkelon, 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,” said Willem Marx. “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.”
Fighter jets were heard flying over the region, indicating Israeli raids were continuing. The past few days of fighting have killed 31 Palestinians in Gaza and a 70-year-old man in central Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met army and intelligence officials early Friday. “That will indicate how the Israeli military will proceed over the coming hours,” said Marx.
A rocket slammed into an open field in the south Jerusalem settlement of Bat Ayin, said Josh Hasten, a spokesman for the area. Videos showed Israelis jumping out of their cars and crouching beneath highway rails as the 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”.
In Gaza, people were out to attend Friday prayers but concerns over Israeli strikes reverberated among worshippers.
“There is constant fear here. We expect everyone will stay home after Friday prayers, but residences have been targeted over the past few days. The amount of fear here remains very high,” Al Jazeera’s Youmna El Sayed said reporting from Gaza.
“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 strike late 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 and his family would have been killed in the thundering explosion if they had not run outside when they heard shouting, he said.
“We were shocked that our house was targeted,” he added as he pulled his young children’s dolls and blankets from a bomb crater.
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.
Since Tuesday, Israel says its strikes have killed five senior Islamic Jihad figures. Islamic Jihad has retaliated with hundreds of rockets fired towards densely populated parts of Israel.
Israel’s military said it has used airstrikes to hit at least 215 targets in Gaza, including rocket and mortar launch sites.
Hamas officials told local media early 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 ceasefire talks.
Senior official Ihasan Attaya complained early Friday 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 when Israel launched, on Tuesday, simultaneous air strikes that killed three Islamic Jihad commanders along with some of their wives and children as they slept in their homes.
Israel said it was retaliating for a barrage of rocket fire launched last week by Islamic Jihad following the death of one of its West Bank members, Khader Adnan, from a hunger strike while in Israeli custody.
Thirty-one people – about half of them civilians – have been killed by Israeli air strikes on Gaza since Israel carried out a surprise attack killing three Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militants on Tuesday, according to the health ministry in Gaza.
One Israeli has been killed and five wounded by rocket fire in the same period, Israel’s Magen David Adom (MDA) ambulance service said. Agencies’