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Sakher Abou El Oun with Rosie Scammell in Jerusalem

Palestinian militants target Jerusalem as Gaza death toll hits 31

Smoke billows from an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on August 6, 2022. ©AFP

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Israel bombarded Islamic Jihad positions in the Gaza Strip for a third day Sunday as violence escalated, with 31 Palestinians killed and militants firing their first rockets at Jerusalem. 

Six children are among the dead since the conflict began Friday, while 275 people have been wounded, said health authorities in the enclave where several buildings were reduced to rubble.

The fighting is the worst in Gaza since an 11-day war last year devastated the impoverished coastal territory, home to some 2.3 million Palestinians, and forced Israelis to seek shelter from rockets.

Israel pressed on with an intense aerial and artillery bombardment of positions of Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed group designated as a terrorist organisation by several Western nations, with the group firing hundreds of rockets in return since Friday.

"I hear the bombing now," Muhammad Abu Salmiya, director general of the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, told AFP."Every minute we receive injured people."

Salmiya said that medics were treating wounded people in a "very bad condition", warning of dire shortages of drugs and fuel to run power generators.

The Israeli army has said the entire "senior leadership of the military wing of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza has been neutralised", and Prime Minister Yair Lapid vowed Sunday that "the operation will continue as long as necessary". 

Medics in Israel said two people have been hospitalised by shrapnel wounds stemming from rocket attacks.

'Torn apart'

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said Cairo was talking with both sides "around the clock" to ease the violence.

In Gaza, run by the Islamist group Hamas, the health ministry said 31 people had been killed.

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 470 rockets that had crossed into Israel, while another 115 rockets fired from Gaza fell inside the enclave.

Al Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad's military wing, said it had "fired rockets" at Jerusalem for the first time in this round of violence.

Sirens wailed and explosions were heard as the army shot the projectiles down.

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, but commemorations passed off without major incident.

Israel has said it was necessary to launch a "pre-emptive" operation Friday against Islamic Jihad, claiming the group 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".

'Killing and wounding'

Daily life in the Gaza Strip has come to a standstill, with the sole power station shut down due to a lack of fuel after Israel closed its border crossings.

Gaza's health ministry said Sunday it only had enough fuel for its power generators to last two days before vital services would be cut.

The United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA has warned of the "severe risk" to the "continuation of basic essential services".

"Each day we wake up to child and women martyrs...there is killing and wounding and people displaced," said Gaza City resident Abu Mohammed al-Madhoun, 56. "We hope that Israeli aggression will end".

Civilians in southern and central Israel, meanwhile, were forced into air raid shelters, with two people hospitalised with shrapnel wounds and 13 others lightly hurt while running for safety, the Magen David Adom emergency service said.

"It's tense, it's frightening," said Beverly Jamil, a resident of Ashkelon close to Gaza.

"Ashkelon's a ghost town -- it's a holiday, kids should be out playing."

Meanwhile, 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.

"The resistance in all its military wings and factions are united in this battle," Barhoum said.

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.

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