GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinian militants fired hundreds of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Wednesday, while Israel pressed ahead with a series of airstrikes that have killed 21 Palestinians, including three senior militants and at least 10 civilians.
As the fighting continued, a state-run Egyptian TV station announced that Egypt had brokered a cease-fire. But shortly after the announcement, more rockets were fired toward Israel, including a new salvo at the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, while Israel struck more targets in Gaza. The continued fighting raised questions about if or when a truce would take effect.
The rocket fire set off air-raid sirens throughout southern and central Israel, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) away. Residents had been bracing for an attack since Israel launched its first airstrikes early Tuesday.
It was the heaviest fighting between the sides in months, pushing the region closer toward a full-blown war. But in signs that both sides were trying to show restraint, Israel avoided attacks on the ruling Hamas militant group, targeting only the smaller and more militant Islamic Jihad faction. Hamas, meanwhile, appeared to remain on the sidelines.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since the Islamic militant group took control of Gaza in 2007.
Late Wednesday, Egypt's Extra News television channel, which has close ties to Egyptian security agencies, said it had brokered a cease-fire. Egyptian intelligence frequently mediates between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza and has brokered past cease-fires.
Israeli government officials confirmed that Egypt was trying to facilitate a cease-fire. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes diplomacy, they said Israel would evaluate the situation based on actions on the ground, not declarations.
There was no immediate comment from Islamic Jihad, the militant group involved in the latest fighting.
As rockets streaked through the sky, Israeli TV stations showed air defense systems intercepting rockets above the skies of Tel Aviv. In the nearby suburb of Ramat Gan, people lay face-down on the ground as they took cover.
The Israeli military said that for the first time, an air-defense system known as David’s Sling intercepted a rocket. The system, developed with the U.S., is meant to intercept medium-range threats and is part of a multi-layered air defense that also includes the better-known Iron Dome anti-rocket system.
In a move that could further raise tensions, Israeli police said they would permit a Jewish ultranationalist parade to take place next week. The parade, meant to celebrate Israel's capture of east Jerusalem and its Jewish holy sites, marches through the heart of the Old City's Muslim Quarter and often leads to friction with local Palestinians.
As air raid sirens continued to wail, Israeli media said over 300 rockets had been fired, with over 200 crossing the border and three crashing into Israeli territory. Israeli rescuers said three people were hurt running for shelter, and two homes in southern Israel were struck.
The army said that schools would remain closed and restrictions on large gatherings would remain in place in southern Israel until at least Friday.
Eden Avramov, a 26-year-old resident of the southern Israeli town of Sderot, described the 24 hours since Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza as terrifying. “We are all traumatized from this routine — the waiting, the booms, the alarms.”
Speaking from her home’s bomb shelter, she said she had mixed feelings about the Israeli military’s assault on Gaza. “I am happy to see that they’re responding to last week’s bombs, it feels like they care,” she said. “I just don’t want to see anyone get hurt, here or on the other side.”
Israeli aircraft hit targets in Gaza for the second straight day, killing at least five Palestinians. The Israeli military said its warplanes targeted 40 rocket launchers across the enclave. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said four of the dead were militants.