Israeli jets pounded the Gaza Strip for a second day on Saturday, killing at least 24 people, including six Palestinian children.
Hamas, the group that governs the Palestinian enclave, said the children were among the dead from a blast close to the Jabalya refugee camp and blamed Israel.
The Israeli military, however, denied it was responsible, saying the explosion was caused by a failed rocket launched by the Palestinian group, Islamic Jihad.
The health ministry in Gaza said at least 203 have also been wounded during the two days of fighting.
The clashes, which shattered more than a year of relative calm around Gaza, began on Friday with Israel’s targeted killing of a senior commander of Islamic Jihad. Israeli missiles have since destroyed homes, apartment buildings and hit a refugee camp, and the military has warned that its campaign against the Islamic Jihad could last a week.
Among those killed in the Israeli raids was Um Walid, a 73-year-old who was preparing for her son’s wedding. She died in an Israeli attack on a car in the Beit Hanoun refugee camp.
Palestinian fighters have responded to the Israeli attacks by launching more than 400 rockets at Israel, but most of them were intercepted. There have been no reports of serious casualties, according to the Israeli ambulance service.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Cairo is talking “around the clock” with both sides to ease the violence.
An Egyptian intelligence delegation headed by Major General Ahmed Abdelkhaliq arrived in Israel on Saturday and would be travelling to Gaza for mediation talks, two Egyptian security sources told the Reuters news agency. They were hoping to secure a day’s ceasefire in order to carry out the talks, the sources added.
“Intensive efforts have been made this evening and the movement listened to the mediators, but these efforts haven’t reached an agreement yet,” an Islamic Jihad official told Reuters late on Saturday.
Around 2.3 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal Gaza Strip, with Israel and Egypt tightly restricting movement of people and goods in and out of the enclave and imposing a naval blockade, citing security concerns.
Israel stopped the planned transport of fuel into Gaza shortly before it launched its attacks on Friday, crippling the territory’s lone power plant and reducing electricity to around four hours per day and drawing warnings from health officials that hospitals would be severely impacted within days.
“[The Israelis] are attacking civilians, they are attacking premises, residential areas. Nobody knows what will happen in the coming hours,” said Dr Medhat Abbas, director at the Gaza Ministry of Health.
“This is an appeal to extend a helping hand to the ministry of health in Gaza Strip right now. There’s a shortage of electricity. It’s been declared now that it will only be four hours a day. This means we will rely in the hospitals on generators. Generators consume half a million litres every month. We do not have this fuel right now.”
The frontier had been largely quiet since May 2021, when 11 days of fierce fighting between Israel and militants left at least 250 in Gaza and 13 in Israel dead.
“The last war caused widespread devastation here in the Gaza Strip. A year later, there has been almost no reconstruction,” said Al Jazeera’s Youmna ElSayed, reporting from Gaza. “This isolated coastal territory is impoverished, its people are barely recovering. And many fear another round of escalation.”
The United States fully supported Israel’s right to defend itself, the US State Department said on Saturday, and it urged all sides to avoid further escalation.
United Nations and European Union Middle East envoys expressed concern about the violence and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority condemned Israel’s attacks.