Fighters in Gaza fire more than 200 rockets into Israel, triggering retaliatory air raids on besieged enclave.
A pregnant Palestinian mother and her one-year-old baby have been killed in a wave of Israeli air raids on the Gaza Strip, shattering a month-long lull in violence in the besieged enclave.
The bombardment on Saturday came after Hamas, which rules Gaza, and the Islamic Jihad movement fired more than 200 rockets towards cities and villages in southern Israel.
At least three 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 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.”
The child’s mother, 37-year-old Falestine Abu Arar, died from her wounds hours later, the health ministry said in a statement. An Israeli military spokeswoman made no immediate comment.
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.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Jerusalem, said the latest bout of conflict had erupted at a “politically sensitive time for the Israelis”.
“Perhaps the calculation is that Israel won’t ramp up this military escalation to the extent of a full conflict because of the concerns about those events and this might be a time to try to get it to follow through on what it reportedly promised at the end of the last military escalation at the beginning of April,” Fawcett said.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.
Following heavy fighting in late March, Israel agreed to ease the blockade in exchange for a halt to rocket fire. This included expanding a fishing zone off Gaza’s coast, increasing imports into Gaza and allowing the Gulf state of Qatar to deliver aid to the cash-strapped territory.
But Israel scaled back the fishing zone this week in response to rocket fire and shut the border crossings entirely on Saturday after barrages from the enclave.
Al Jazeera’s Fawcett said Israel had also so far failed to facilitate “the promised extra funding from Qatar” and that “other easings of the Israeli siege have not borne fruit either”.
Some 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered years of blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts. Unemployment stands at 52 percent, according to the World Bank, and poverty is rampant.
Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop weapons reaching Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007.
Hamas said on Thursday that its Gaza chief, Yeyha Sinwar, had travelled to Cairo for talks on efforts to maintain calm along the border and alleviate hardship in the enclave.
Mukhaimer Abu Sadda, a professor of political science at Al Azhar University in the Gaza Strip, said the onus was on Israel to implement the agreements brokered following the March fighting.
“It’s the Israeli government who has not implemented the latest understandings,” Sadda told Al Jazeera.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES