An Israeli air raid in Gaza City has killed at least 10 Palestinians, mostly children, in the deadliest single strike since the battle with Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers erupted earlier this week.
Both sides pressed for an advantage as efforts to being about a ceasefire gathered strength.
The latest outburst of violence began in Jerusalem and has spread across the region, with Jewish-Arab clashes and rioting in mixed cities of Israel.
There were also widespread Palestinian protests on Friday in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot and killed 11 people.
The spiralling violence has raised fears of a new Palestinian “intifada”, or uprising, at a time when there have been no peace talks in years.
Palestinians are marking Nakba day on Saturday, when they commemorate the estimated 700,000 people who fled or were driven from their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation, raising the possibility of more unrest.
US diplomat Hady Amr arrived in the region on Friday as part of Washington’s efforts to de-escalate the conflict, and the UN Security Council is also set to meet on Sunday.
But Israel turned down an Egyptian proposal for a one-year truce that Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers had accepted, according to an Egyptian source.
Since Monday night, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, whose military responded by pounding the Gaza Strip with strikes.
In Gaza, at least 126 people have been killed, including 31 children and 20 women; in Israel, seven people have been killed, including a six-year-old boy and a soldier.
Rocket fire from Gaza and Israel’s bombardment of the blockaded Palestinian territory continued into Saturday, when an air strike on a three-storey house in a refugee camp in Gaza City killed eight children and two women from an extended family – the highest number of fatalities in a single hit.
Mohammed Abu Hatab told reporters his wife and five children had gone to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday with relatives.
She and three of the children, aged between six and 14, were killed, while an 11-year-old is missing. Only his five-month-old son Omar is known to have survived.
Shortly afterward, Hamas said it fired a salvo of rockets at southern Israel in response to the air strike.
A furious Israeli barrage early on Friday killed a family of six in their house and sent thousands fleeing to UN-run shelters.
The military said the operation involved 160 warplanes dropping some 80 tonnes of explosives over the course of 40 minutes and succeeded in destroying a vast tunnel network used by Hamas.
Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the military aims to minimise collateral damage in striking military targets.
But measures it takes in other strikes, such as warning shots fired in order to get civilians to leave, were not “feasible this time”.
Military correspondents in Israeli media said the military believed dozens of militants were killed inside the tunnels.
The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, but the Israeli military said the real number is far higher.
Gaza’s infrastructure, already in widespread disrepair because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas seized power in 2007, showed further signs of breakdown, compounding residents’ misery.
The UN said Gazans are experiencing daily power cuts of eight to 12 hours and at least 230,000 have limited access to tap water.
The impoverished and densely populated territory is home to two million Palestinians, most of them the descendants of refugees from what is now Israel.
The conflict has reverberated widely. Israeli cities with mixed Arab and Jewish populations have seen daily violence, with mobs from each community fighting in the streets and destroying each other’s property.
The tensions began in east Jerusalem earlier this month, with Palestinian protests against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions and Israeli police measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint located on a mount in the Old City revered by Muslims and Jews.
Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem late Monday, in an apparent attempt to present itself as the champion of the protesters.
During the conflict that spiralled from there, Israel said it wants to inflict as much damage as it can on Hamas’ military infrastructure in Gaza.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that Hamas will “pay a very heavy price” for its rocket attacks, as Israel masses troops at the frontier.
US president Joe Biden has expressed support for Israel while saying he hopes to bring the violence under control.