Smoke rises above buildings in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, following an Israeli strike on May 12, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

GAZA CITY: Israeli airstrikes against Palestinian militant targets in the Gaza Strip continued for a third day on Friday.

The Palestinian death toll rose to 31, authorities said, as foreign mediators pressed ahead with efforts to reach a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, sirens warning of incoming rocket fire sounded in southern Israel on Friday.

The Israeli Defence Forces said sirens sounded in communities around the blockaded enclave but there was no immediate word of any damage.

After the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group fired longer-range rockets toward Israel on Thursday — sending shrapnel slicing through apartments that killed a 70-year-old man — the Israeli military said its warplanes struck Islamic Jihad rocket launchers. Gaza residents reported explosions in farms near the southern city of Rafah. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Islamic Jihad held its rocket fire overnight, raising hopes that Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations would be able to broker a ceasefire. During a lull in the fighting Friday, Palestinians surveyed the wreckage wrought by Israeli strikes.

“The dream that we built for our children, for our sons, has ended,” said Belal Bashir, a Palestinian living in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza, whose family home was reduced to a heap of rubble in an airstrike late Thursday. He and his family would have been killed in the thundering explosion if they hadn’t ran outside when they heard shouting, he said.

“We were shocked that our house was targeted,” he added as he pulled his young children’s dolls and blankets from a bomb crater.

The cross-border exchanges this week have pitted Israel against Islamic Jihad, the second-largest militant group in Gaza after the territory’s Hamas rulers. Since Tuesday, Israel says its strikes have killed five senior Islamic Jihad figures. Islamic Jihad has retaliated with over 800 rockets fire toward densely populated parts of Israel. In that time, Israel’s military said it has used airstrikes to hit at least 215 targets in Gaza, including rocket and mortar launch sites and militants preparing to use them.

At least 31 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed in the fighting, including seven children and four women, according to the UN humanitarian office.