Five Palestinians were killed in Israeli air strikes and a possible artillery attack on the Gaza Strip on Friday, despite a call by Hamas for a cease-fire to end weeks of cross-border violence.
The Israeli strikes, near the southern city of Khan Younis, killed two members of the al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, which in recent days has fired missiles into Israel — a response, it says, to Israel killing three of its members last week, Al Jazeera reports.
Al-Qassam Brigades has admitted firing the missile that hit an Israeli school bus Thursday, critically injured a 16-year-old boy. The boy remains unconscious in the intensive care ward of an Israeli hospital.
Retaliation shelling by Israel, ordered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in response to the bus strike, killed an elderly man and wounded at least three others, including a 4-year-old girl, according to reports. An Israeli attack helicopter also machine-gunned a target in Gaza City for the first time since the January 2009 war.
Barak said he held Hamas responsible for any attack originating from the Gaza Strip. Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and has reportedly carried out dozens of terrorist attacks targeting Israelis.
Hamas said Friday it had declared a cease-fire and would cease firing missiles at Israel if Israel stopped its attacks, according to IBT.
A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fauzi Barhum, told Al Jazeera: "The resistance movement's response to the enemy's massacre comes as self-defense, and to protect the citizens. It aims to pressure the occupier to stop committing crimes."
At least 10 Palestinians have been killed since the attack on the Israeli bus.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed the Friday strikes, saying Israel "will not allow any attempt to harm Israeli civilians" and "holds the Hamas terrorist organization solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip," CNN reported
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, meantime, urged Hamas to stop firing rockets immediately and called for Israel to exercise "maximum restraint."
But an Israeli cabinet minister said the strikes would continue. "We are acting as we see fit so that this type of fire will not continue, and so that the people behind the fire will regret it,'' said Matan Vilnai, in charge of the home front, according to Al Jazeera.
CNN reported that 15 mortars and rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel Friday morning.
A senior Hamas official told Al Jazeera: "The Israelis are trying to impose a new formula in Gaza. They are trying to prevent us from taking any benefits in the region. "They are trying to escalate the situation ... The coming few days will carry a lot of developments if things continue like this."