Three civilians among 9 dead in Gaza air strikes

Israeli warplanes and tanks hammered targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday, killing nine people, as a truce declared by the armed groups unravelled even before it could take hold.

The latest deaths came after 24 hours of deadly tit-for-tat violence that was sparked on Thursday when Hamas militants fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli school bus, critically wounding a teenager and lightly injuring the driver.

Since then, Israel has launched more than 20 raids on targets across the enclave. By Friday afternoon, it had had killed 14 Gazans — including six civilians, five Hamas militants and one policeman.

It was not immediately clear if two others killed were combatants or bystanders.

Around 55 people have been wounded.

In the wake of the strikes, the self-declared truce called by Hamas appeared meaningless, with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad claiming mortar and rocket attacks on Israel on Friday.

“Our holy warriors are ready to react to the Zionist aggression and respond to any foolish acts committed by the occupation with everything they have,” said a statement from Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

A statement on the group’s website also said the “resistance” had fired several Grad rockets at Ashkelon and that smoke was rising from the Israeli city.

However, the Israeli defense ministry said the Iron Dome anti-missile system had intercepted three of the rockets, while a fourth struck open ground without causing damage.

Two of Friday’s deadliest strikes took place around the southern city of Khan Yunis, with one killing two Hamas militants just east of the city.

A second hit a group of civilians slightly farther north, killing a man in his 50s and a woman and her 21-year-old daughter, medics said.

Four others were wounded in that raid, including an 18-year-old girl who was in serious condition.

The Israeli military said it had targeted “two terrorist squads at the launch sites” and expressed regret for harming civilian bystanders.

However, a military statement blamed Hamas for choosing “to operate from within its civilian population, using it as a human shield.”

Another missile strike killed one Hamas militant near the northern town of Beit Lahiya, while a second militant died later of his wounds, Hamas said. Witnesses had reported seeing several men trying to fire a rocket from the area.

Then as dusk fell, a shell slammed into a cemetery in the Shejaiya neighbourhood of Gaza City, killing two people and wounding 10 others, some of them children, medics said.

It was not initially clear if the dead were civilians or militants or what they were doing in the cemetery. The military had no immediate comment.

Six hours after Thursday’s bus attack, Gaza Hamas leaders hurriedly announced a fresh truce in the hope of possibly curbing Israel’s response, but apparently to no avail.

Speaking in Prague on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would “not shy away from taking all necessary action, offensive and defensive, to protect our country and its citizens.”

Aside from the anti-tank missile, militants on Thursday lobbed more than 50 mortar rounds at Israel, one of which hit a house.

More than 20 more were fired on Friday, police and media reports said.

The bus attack was the first time an anti-tank missile had hit a civilian target in Israel, and was seen by the Jewish state as a worrying escalation.