The Palestinian militant group Hamas launched another barrage of rockets at Israeli neighborhoods Thursday, and Israel responded with more airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, as efforts to halt the escalating violence moved forward.
Air raid warnings sounded across southern Israel for the fourth consecutive day, while some rockets reached as far north as Tel Aviv.
The latest attacks occurred as Israel amassed ground forces and tanks along the Gaza border for a possible invasion of the Palestinian enclave.
In response to the buildup, the spokesman for the military arm of Hamas, Abu Ubaida, vowed to inflict losses on the Israelis if they invade.
"Mass up as you wish, from the sea, land and sky. We have prepared for your kinds of deaths that would make you curse yourselves," he said.
Israeli military forces say Hamas has fired 1,600 rockets across the border since Monday, with the majority intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, while about 400 rockets fell short of their targets and landed inside Gaza.
Israel has responded to the rocket barrages with devastating airstrikes on Hamas-controlled targets in Gaza, including Hamas rocket launch sites, intelligence offices and the homes of Hamas leaders,
Several commanders of the Hamas militant group have been killed in Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Israel announced Wednesday. The dead commanders include Bassem Issa, leader of Hamas' military operation in Gaza City, as well as the group's engineering chief and the heads of cyber warfare and rocket development.
At last count, at least 83 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 17 children, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. Seven Israelis have been killed in the rocket attacks, including a six-year-old girl.
The deadly exchange of rocket fire and airstrikes, the biggest fighting between the Palestinian militant group and Israeli forces since the 2014 war in Gaza, were sparked by growing unrest over control of Jerusalem and attempts by Jewish settlers to take over Arab-controlled communities.
The tensions have spilled over into the West Bank, where bloody clashes have broken out in several Arab-Jewish cities. Authorities have imposed a nighttime curfew in the central city of Lod, where at least one person was shot this week, while several hundred people in Lod and other cities have been arrested. A mob of right-wing Jewish residents in the town of Bat Yam brutally attacked an Arab motorist, beating him unconscious.
Global mediation efforts to end the fighting took a significant step forward Thursday when Egyptian security officials met with Hamas leaders in Gaza and with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv, according to two Egyptian intelligence officials.
As word of the officials' arrival spread, Hamas fired about 100 rockets toward south and central Israel.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday expressed his support for Israel's right to defend itself, while saying he hoped the fighting would end "sooner than later."
After U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke Wednesday with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Gantz, the Pentagon released a statement saying Austin informed Gantz of the Pentagon's "ironclad support for Israel's legitimate right to defend itself and its people."
The statement said Austin "strongly condemned the launching of rockets by Hamas and other terrorist groups that targeted Israeli civilians" and "reiterated the importance of all involved parties to take steps to restore calm."
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken similarly condemned the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians in a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, declaring "Israel has the right to defend itself" while the Palestinians must be afforded the right "to live in safety and security" while calling for de-escalation.
Blinken also said he instructed Hady Amr, U.S. deputy secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, to leave immediately for the Middle East to urge Israeli and Palestinian officials to de-escalate.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday denounced the "indiscriminate" rocket launches from Gaza toward Israeli population centers while urging Israel to exercise "maximum restraint."
German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said Wednesday that Germany is "strongly on the side of Israel" and added it "has the right to defend itself."
Lambrecht also criticized recent anti-Semitic acts such as Israeli flag burnings near synagogues in Germany, saying they show "nothing but horrible disrespect for human dignity."
During a conversation Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced support for the Palestinians.
Erdogan said the global community should "give Israel a strong and deterrent lesson" over its attacks on Palestinians, according to Turkey's Presidential Communications Directorate.
Palestinian youths take pictures with their smart phones of a huge crater on a main road in Gaza City on May 13, 2021 following continued Israeli airstrikes overnight on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
The directorate said Erdogan suggested to Putin that the establishment of an international force to protect the Palestinians should be considered.
The recent violence follows weeks of mounting tensions and confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the city, sparked in part by Israeli plans to carry out evictions of Palestinian families in an east Jerusalem neighborhood.
A lawsuit over the evictions has reached Israel's Supreme Court. However, the court postponed a key ruling in the case Monday, citing the "circumstances."
Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its unified capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state.