GAZA CITY — Around 100 people have now died in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, according to the Palestinian healthy ministry. The mounting death toll comes as President Obama said the U.S. is willing to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
Four days into its offensive, Israel continued to intensify its aerial bombardment of the densely populated coastal enclave Friday, causing widespread panic among residents.
Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Palestinian health ministry, said that in a single strike to a building in Khan Younis eight members of a single family were killed. Israeli gunboats also shelled Gaza's harbor, destroying most of the boats and ships, he said. Some 670 people have been injured since Tuesday.
"It's hard to decide who you're going to check up on first: Shall I check on this guy or that person? Shall I call my brother or my friend, aunt or uncle? Your cousin from your mom's side or father's side?" said Gaza resident Mutassim Awaja, 24, on Friday.
"Oh God they bombed that person's house? What is that person going to do now that his children have passed away? That's what we are thinking about in this time," Awaja said.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the military was doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, calling inhabitants ahead of time to warn of imminent attacks. He said Israeli forces also fire "non-explosive munitions" at roofs as a warning and look for people to leave before destroying a structure.
In separate developments Friday, Lebanon's state-run news agency said two rockets were fired from Lebanon toward Israel. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the strikes, which prompted Israel to retaliate with artillery fire toward the source of the firing.
Southern Lebanon is a stronghold of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which has battled Israel numerous times. However, recent fire from Lebanon has been blamed on radical Palestinian factions in the area and Hezbollah has not been involved in the ongoing offensive. Lerner said it was unclear whether the new front was "symbolic or something more substantial."
Rocket fire from Gaza also struck a gas station in Ashdod on Friday, seriously injuring one person, in what looked to be the most serious attack in Israel in the four days of fighting. Israel has not reported any deaths of its citizens since both sides intensified their aerial campaigns this week.
Israel said its military has carried out more than 1,000 strikes against Gaza targets, bombarding the territory on average every five minutes. On Thursday, it said that militants were firing a rocket toward Israel at a rate of about every ten minutes.
In Washington, President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to condemn the rocket attacks on Israel. "The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 cease-fire agreement," the White House said about the phone call.
Middle East envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said efforts were being made to try and reach a truce.
"We are in a critical point," he said. "I think we have got to do everything we can to … create a situation in which the people in Gaza and the West Bank and in Israel feel that this is not then going to recur and there is some genuine plan in place."
Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities temporarily opened the Rafah crossing with Gaza on Friday to allow hundreds of Palestinians injured during the ongoing Israeli offensive to receive medical treatment on the other side of the border.
Egypt has mostly kept the Rafah crossing closed in the past year, and cut off access to the tunnels that smugglers have used in the past, which has led to shortages of essential supplies such as fuel and food.
Locals in Gaza expressed frustration that the international community was not doing more to resolve the conflict. Some reflected on the last outbreak of hostilities with Israel in 2012.
"I survived in the second war then and now I am wondering if I will survive this one," said Israa Yasien, 22, of Gaza City. "I say stop killing civilians, women and children in Gaza — stop destroying our homes."