Death toll in Israeli bombing of Gaza rises to 41, includes 15 children
Forty-one Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip have been killed since Israel began a bombing campaign on the enclave on Friday, Gazan health authorities have said, amid reports a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants may be imminent.
Since an Israeli military operation with the stated aim of targeting Islamic Jihad positions began on Friday, a total of 41 Palestinians "have been martyred, including 15 children and four women, and 311 have been injured" across the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian enclave's ministry said Sunday.
Israel said Sunday that it had agreed to an Egyptian-proposed truce with Palestinian militants in Gaza after three days of intense conflict, an Egyptian source said, as Islamic Jihad reported talks toward a ceasefire were underway.
The negotiations raise hopes that Egypt could help broker a deal to end the worst fighting in Gaza since an 11-day war last year devastated the impoverished coastal territory, home to some 2.3 million Palestinians.
An Egyptian security source said that Israel "has accepted" a ceasefire, adding that Cairo was waiting for the Palestinian response.
Nour Abu Sultan, who lives west of Gaza, said she was "awaiting the declaration of the ceasefire on tenterhooks".
"We haven't slept for days (due to) heat and shelling and rockets, the sound of aircrafts hovering above us... is terrifying," the 29-year-old said.
Since Friday, Israel has carried out heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of Islamic Jihad positions in Gaza, with the militants firing hundreds of rockets in retaliation.
A spokesman for Islamic Jihad - an Iran-backed group designated as a terrorist organisation by several Western nations - told AFP "there is no agreement" yet.
Musab al-Buraim listed the group's demands, including the release of senior leader Bassem al-Saadi, whose arrest in the occupied West Bank was announced by Israel on Tuesday.
Islamic Jihad extended its barrage earlier Sunday to fire two rockets targeting Jerusalem, but they were shot down by the army.
The Israeli army has said the entire "senior leadership of the military wing of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza has been neutralised".
Muhammad Abu Salmiya, director general of the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, said medics were treating wounded people in a "very bad condition", warning of dire shortages of drugs and fuel to run power generators.
"Every minute we receive injured people," he said earlier Sunday.
The health ministry in Gaza, run by the Islamist group Hamas, said 31 people had been killed.
But Israel said it had "irrefutable" evidence that a stray rocket fired by Islamic Jihad was responsible for the deaths of several children in Gaza's northern Jabalia area on Saturday.
It was not immediately clear how many children were killed there, but an AFP photographer saw six dead bodies at the local hospital including three minors.
"We came running to the place and found body parts lying on the ground... they were torn-apart children," said Muhammad Abu Sadaa, describing the devastation in Jabalia.
The army said it had struck 139 Islamic Jihad positions, with the militants firing over 600 rockets and mortars, but with more than a hundred of those projectiles falling short inside Gaza.
Amid the high tensions, Jews in Israel-annexed east Jerusalem marked the Tisha Be'av fasting day Sunday at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known in Judaism as the Temple Mount.
Some Palestinians shouted "God is greatest" in response, and an AFP photographer was briefly detained by Israeli police, but commemorations passed off without major incident.
Israel has said it was necessary to launch a "pre-emptive" operation Friday against Islamic Jihad, which it said was planning an imminent attack.
The army has killed senior leaders of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, including Taysir al-Jabari in Gaza City and Khaled Mansour in Rafah in the south.
Israel's Lapid called the killing of Mansour an "extraordinary achievement".
In southern and central Israel, civilians were forced into air raid shelters. Two people were hospitalised with shrapnel wounds and 13 others lightly hurt while running for safety, the Magen David Adom emergency service said.
Hamas's response to the violence remains critical, with spokesman Fawzi Barhoum offering the group's support to Islamic Jihad on Sunday, but stopping short of saying they would take part.
Islamic Jihad is aligned with Hamas but often acts independently. Hamas has fought four wars with Israel since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, including the conflict last May.