JERUSALEM -- Militants in Gaza fired more than 250 rockets into southern Israel on Saturday, and Israel responded with dozens of airstrikes and tank fire.
Six Palestinians, including a pregnant mother and her baby daughter, were killed, raising the total number of Gazans fatally struck by Israeli fire since Friday to 10.
Three Israelis, including an 80-year-old woman, were wounded Saturday by rocket shrapnel. The Israeli military said in a statement that its Iron Dome air-defense batteries intercepted dozens of the rockets from Gaza.
Israeli police said early today that a fourth Israeli had suffered "heavy injuries and was in a grave condition" after a rocket landed in a courtyard in Ashkelon, about 7 miles north of Gaza, damaging several buildings.
The weekend's violence comes as Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, is negotiating in Egypt for a longer-term truce with Israel. Hamas, which opposes Israel's existence, is attempting to secure an easing of Israeli restrictions on trade and movement in return for a lull in violence.
The Islamic Jihad, a smaller armed faction backed by Iranians, is also involved in the negotiations in Cairo. The Israeli military blamed the rocket fire on the Islamic Jihad, though the military holds Hamas ultimately responsible for all fire emanating from Gaza as the territory's ruling power.
In a joint statement, Gaza's armed factions said the rocket fire was in response to the "targeting and assassination" of their militants a day earlier.
"Our response will be tougher and larger and broader in the face of aggression," they said in a statement.
In a video released Saturday afternoon, Islamic Jihad showed its militants preparing to fire more rockets and gave what it said were the coordinates of potential strategic targets, including the port of Ashdod, Israel's nuclear reactor in Dimona and Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.
The United Nations' Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, said the U.N. was working with Egypt to restore calm and called on all sides to "de-escalate."
"Continuing down the current path of escalation will quickly undo what has been achieved and destroy the chances for longtime solutions to the crisis," he said in a statement.
State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said "the United States strongly condemns the ongoing barrage of rocket attacks by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad from Gaza upon innocent civilians and their communities across Israel."
"We stand with Israel and fully support its right to self defense against these abhorrent attacks," she said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister and is forming a new governing coalition after winning a fifth term in the April elections, met with his security chiefs Saturday about the clashes.
Under the recent truce mediated in Egypt, Israel agreed to expand a fishing zone off Gaza's coast, to increase imports into Gaza and to allow the Gulf state of Qatar to deliver aid to cash-strapped Gaza.
After Saturday's violence, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said it was closing the fishing zone. It has also sealed Israel's two land crossings with Gaza, which are used by Palestinian medical patients to enter and exit the territory. They also provide the main entry for cargo.
Saturday's escalation in violence followed a day in which two Palestinian protesters were killed taking part in ongoing weekly demonstrations at the border fence with Israel, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
Gazans have been holding the demonstrations each Friday to protest the dire humanitarian situation in the strip and the ongoing land, sea and air blockade imposed by Israel since Hamas forcibly took power in 2007. Egypt opens its border with Gaza only sporadically.
Two Israeli soldiers were wounded by a Gaza sniper during Friday's demonstration. Two other Palestinians, who were identified as Hamas militants, were killed Friday in an Israeli airstrike in retaliation for the sniper attack.
In its report on Saturday's violence, Gaza's Health Ministry identified one of the victims as Sebba Abu Arar, 14 months. The ministry said she was killed in an Israeli strike against a military facility near her family's home in eastern Gaza City and that her older sister was among several injured.
"They were sitting at the yard in their house with their mother. They were shocked by a missile landing on them," said Abu Nidal Abu Arar, a relative living next door. "This occupation is criminal."
The girls' mother -- Filisteen Abu Arar, 37 -- was severely wounded and died later at the hospital, the ministry added.
The third Palestinian killed Saturday was identified as Emad Muhammad Nasir, 20. He was affiliated with a group of militants, members of which said he was killed while firing mortar shells into Israel.
The fourth casualty -- Khaled Muhammad Abu Qlaq, 25 -- was hit by an Israeli drone missile as he rode on a motorcycle in northern Gaza.
At dawn today, two more Islamic Jihad militants were killed by an airstrike in central Gaza Strip, the group said.
The Turkish news agency Anadolu said its Gaza office, a six-story commercial and residential building, had been hit in an Israeli strike.
Rocket fire and airstrikes similar to Saturday's happens periodically. Hamas spokesman Abdullatif al-Qanoua said the group would continue to "respond to the crimes of the occupation" and "not allow the blood of our people to be shed."
Musab al-Buraim, spokesman of Islamic Jihad, said in a short statement that it, too, was committed to "resistance."
The violence comes as Gazans prepare to begin the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan on Monday, and as Israel plans to mark its Memorial Day and Independence Day holiday later this week. Israel is also hosting the Eurovision international singing contest next week. Contestants from across Europe are already in Israel to prepare, but prolonged fighting could deter international travelers.
An Islamic Jihad spokesman in Gaza, Musab al-Briem, told reporters Saturday that the group would deprive Israel of "succeeding with any festival" that works against Palestinian interests. Palestinian activists and their supporters have been pressuring contestants to boycott the event.
Information for this article was contributed by Ruth Eglash, Hazem Balousha and Loveday Morris of The Washington Post; by Fares Akram of The Associated Press; and by Isabel Kershner of The New York Times.
The fireball from an Israeli airstrike rises over a building Saturday in Gaza City.
People walk near the rubble of a multistory building in Gaza City that was hit in a retaliatory Israeli airstrike.
A Section on 05/05/2019
Print Headline: Gaza militants unleash rocket attack on Israel