Israel's Gaza offensive kills 21 Palestinians, prompting rocket fire at Tel Aviv
Six Palestinians, including a 10-year-old girl, were killed in Gaza on the second day of Israeli bombing, with Palestinian groups firing dozens of rockets at Israel in return, targeting cities as far as Tel Aviv.
Starting from Wednesday noon local time, Israeli fighter jets launched air strikes in several locations across Gaza throughout the day, including in Rafah, Khan Younis, Beit Lahia and other areas.
The Palestinian health ministry said at least five Palestinians have been killed, bringing the death toll since the start of the Israeli offensive on Tuesday to 21, including five children. At least 64 others have been wounded.
The Palestinian Joint Command, an umbrella body of armed factions in Gaza, including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, launched rockets towards Israel in response, targeting Tel Aviv, Sderot, Ashkelon and other areas in central and southern Israel.
There were no immediate reports of casualties in Israel.
The Wednesday fighting came a day after Israel launched a new offensive in Gaza dubbed "Operation Shield and Arrow".
On its first day, Israeli bombing killed 15 Palestinians, including four children and five women.
The Israeli military said in different statements that it struck military targets belonging to the Islamic Jihad as part of the offensive.
The Palestinian Joint Command on Wednesday said it launched the counter "Operation Revenge for the Free".
It said in a statement that it fired rockets in response to Israel targeting civilian homes and killing three Islamic Jihad commanders. It added that the Palestinian resistance was ready for all options if Israel continues its aggression.
Media in Egypt and Israel reported that the Egyptian government was attempting to mediate a ceasefire.
A senior political source told Haaretz that Israel was interested in ending the conflict as soon as possible.
"We have three key factors here: the elimination of top Islamic Jihad members, the willingness of Hamas not to join the campaign – a decision that also has implications for the future – and the fact that there are no significant vulnerabilities on the Israeli side," the source said.
"Any additional moves, from either side, could lead to a deterioration that would undermine the ability to reach a ceasefire."
In one of the deadly Israeli air strikes on Wednesday, the military claimed it targeted Islamic Jihad operatives at rocket launch sites.
However, eyewitnesses denied the Israeli claim, saying the target was a group of farmers.
'A man went with his relatives to pick up the cucumber crop from their farmland... when he was targeted and martyred'
- Hasan Abu Taima, Gaza resident
"A man went with his relatives to pick up the cucumber crop from their farmland, 300 meters away from their house in the al-Fukhari area east of Khan Younis, when he was targeted and martyred," Hasan Abu Taima, a resident of the area, told Middle East Eye.
A similar air strike in a nearby area killed two people on Tuesday with Israel also claiming they were Islamic Jihad fighters. The group denied they were members.
In an air strike that hit a house in central Gaza on Wednesday, a 10-year-old was killed.
She became the fifth child to die in the Israeli offensive.
The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Tor Wennesland, on Tuesday condemned the "unacceptable" killing of civilians.
"I condemn the deaths of civilians in the Israeli air strikes. This is unacceptable," Wennesland said.
An Israeli military spokesperson on Tuesday said they were "aware of some collateral" but had no further comment.
The offensive comes a week after a brief exchange of fire between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza left one Palestinian killed and two Israelis wounded.
It is largest attack mounted by Israel against Gaza since August last year, when the military assassinated senior PIJ commander Tayseer al-Jabari, triggering a three-day exchange of fire.
At least 49 Palestinians were killed in the 2022 Israeli bombardment, including 17 children, and 360 others were wounded.
More than two million Palestinians are packed into Gaza, one of the world's most densely populated areas. Under blockade by Israel since 2006, the besieged coastal enclave has been described as "the world's largest open-air prison".
The Israeli military has killed at least 129 Palestinian this year, 109 of whom were shot dead in the West Bank.
Palestinian have killed at least 16 Israeli in the same period.