Israeli warplanes struck dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip and three people were reportedly killed there, while Palestinian militants from the territory fired scores of rockets into Israel in a fierce burst of violence overnight and into Thursday morning.
Three Israelis were wounded by rocket shrapnel, while three Palestinians including a 23-year-old pregnant woman and her 18-month old child were killed in airstrikes.
The majority of some 70 rockets hit open areas while 11 were intercepted, Israel's military said.
Israel regularly carries out airstrike attacks in Gaza under the pretext of targeting Hamas movement sites.
The strikes come in retaliation for a six-hour barrage of rockets which forced thousands of Israelis to seek shelter along Gaza border towns.
A 30-year-old Hamas affiliate was killed in the strikes, the Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said. "The exchange of fire continues, it's possible there will be a display of power - this time from our side - a few days of concentrated attacks, which will show Hamas the level of damage Israel can inflict if it insists on continuing".
A Hamas source told AFP that all groups in Gaza have halted their fire at Israel, claiming that the rockets were in response to Israeli attacks earlier this week. A volley launched against the city of Sderot caused injuries to three Israelis.
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The escalation started on late Wednesday, when Palestinians shot at an Israeli army patrol on the Gaza border, only damaging the vehicle.
The Israel Defense Forces Twitter account said its fighter jets had targeted more 140 strategic sites, including a weapons manufacturing and storage facility.
The western media coverage on Palestine and Israel has been a point of contention for years now especially in the United Kingdom, with many media outlets accused of being biased toward Israel, including the BBC and their failure to report the Palestinian side of the struggle.
The incident occurred while a group of senior Hamas leaders from overseas were visiting Gaza to discuss the ceasefire efforts with local leaders.
Get ready, or not: An army official's warning that a war with Gaza is a very real possibility and southerners should get ready to evacuate the Gaza border region may have been meant as a scare tactic in the hopes that Hamas will realize how sideways things are about to turn, but that doesn't mean it's not also true.
Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations special envoy who is involved in Egyptian efforts to broker a truce, said in a statement on Thursday that he's "deeply alarmed" by "multiple rockets fired toward communities in southern Israel" the day before. "If the current escalation is not contained immediately, the situation can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people". The IDF later suggested the incident was a misunderstanding, as the tank returned fire in response to the shots fired as part of a ceremony of the al-Qassam Brigades, which were not deliberately aimed at Israeli soldiers, Haaretz reported. Our strong commitment to the State of Israel's right to defend its borders and civilians is uncompromising.