Pregnant Palestinian woman and baby killed in Gaza violence

A pregnant mother and her baby niece have been killed in a fresh round of violence between Israel and militants in Gaza.

A breakdown in ceasefire talks has led to a flare-up in hostilities, with Israel retaliating strongly after two of its soldiers were wounded by gunfire on Friday.

In some of the bloodiest fighting since the 2014 war, at least nine Palestinians, including a pregnant mother and her baby niece, were killed while three Israelis died from rocket fire.

The Palestinians blamed the deaths of the pregnant woman and her niece on Israel airstrikes targeting sites in Gaza but the Israeli military insisted the pair died due to Hamas militants’ ammunition.

Israeli police said a 58-year-old Israeli man was killed when a rocket hit a house in Ashkelon, about 10km north of Gaza, causing damage to several buildings.

He was the first Israeli civilian fatality since the seven-week-long Gaza war in 2014. Separate strikes on the southern Israeli city killed two men, a local hospital official said.

Israel said it has been targeted by more than 500 rockets since Saturday.

It is the most intense fighting between the two sides in months.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has ordered Israeli forces to attack militants in the Gaza Strip.

“This morning I instructed the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) to continue with massive strikes against terrorists in the Gaza Strip and I also instructed that forces around the Gaza Strip be stepped up with tank, artillery and infantry forces,” Mr Netanyahu, who doubles as Israeli defence minister, said in a statement.

Israel and Hamas, an Islamic group that opposes Israel’s existence, have fought three wars and dozens of smaller flare-ups of violence since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.

They fought for several days in March before Egypt brokered a truce in which Israel agreed to ease a crippling blockade on Gaza in exchange for a halt in rocket fire.

The latest fighting came as leaders from Hamas and smaller armed faction Islamic Jihad were in Cairo for talks with Egyptian mediators aimed at preventing the cease-fire from collapsing completely.

Gaza’s health ministry said a 14-month-old girl, Seba Abu Arar, was killed in an Israeli air strike that hit their home in east Gaza City.

Her pregnant aunt, 37, was severely wounded and died later in hospital.

In the morning, Gaza’s health ministry said a 22-year-old Palestinian man was killed by an Israeli air strike, and 40 other Palestinians were wounded.

Late on Saturday, health officials said a 25-year-old man was killed by an Israeli drone missile as he was travelling on a motorbike in northern Gaza.

At dawn, two Islamic Jihad militants were killed by an airstrike in central Gaza Strip, the group said.

In Israel, medical officials said an 80-year-old woman was severely wounded by rocket fire, a 58-year-old man was wounded by shrapnel and later died, and a teenage boy was mildly hurt as he ran for cover.

Israeli police said a house in the coastal city of Ashkelon was damaged.