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Islamic Jihad targets Jerusalem for the first time in current conflict as it fires barrage of rockets at Israel

<i>Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>A building in the central Israeli city of Rehovot
AFP via Getty Images
Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
A building in the central Israeli city of Rehovot

By Elliott Gotkine, Ibrahim Dahman, Abeer Salman, Richard Allen Greene, Alex Stambaugh and Sana Noor Haq, CNN

Palestinian militants launched rockets towards Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank on Friday, an escalation of violence in the region that has led to the deaths of at least 33 Palestinians in Gaza and one person in Israel.

Jerusalem has not previously been targeted by rockets in the current hostilities, which began earlier this week.

The al Quds Brigades of Islamic Jihad said in a statement shortly after the rocket fire: “The launching towards Jerusalem is a message, and everyone should understand its purpose. Jerusalem is in front of our eyes, and what is happening there is not separate from Gaza.”

It called the operation “Revenge of the Free.”

Explosions could be heard in Jerusalem amid the persistent cross-border fire that has led to heavy bloodshed in the region, particularly along the strip.

Talks to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Islamic Jihad in Gaza are “on ice right now,” a diplomatic source familiar with the negotiations told CNN Friday. The source asked not to be named discussing closed-door diplomatic talks.

On Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it launched another round of strikes overnight on the Gaza Strip, hitting what it said were two command centers belonging to senior Islamic Jihad commanders.

One command center was used by senior Islamic Jihad operative Muhammad Abu Al Ata for “the planning and command of terrorist activity against Israel,” the IDF said.

The second was used by Khaled Azzam, a senior operative in the rocket system in the Gaza division, for “planning launches toward Israeli territory,” according to the IDF.

The IDF did not say whether they believed anyone had been killed in the strikes.

An Israeli airstrike on Friday also killed two Palestinian men in Gaza — including a Islamic Jihad senior commander — and wounded five others, bringing the number of Palestinian men, women and children killed in Gaza to at least 33 since Tuesday, when Israel’s “Shield and Arrow” operation began.

A CNN producer who arrived at the scene shortly after the airstrike saw several windows blown out on the top story of an apartment building.

The Israel Defense Forces said that IDF fighter jets also struck four military posts belonging to Islamic Jihad. IDF aircraft also struck a mortar shell launcher in the southern Gaza Strip.

Sirens sounded in Israel throughout the day on Friday, warning of incoming rocket fire in areas around Gaza.

A CNN team in Sderot, southern Israel, saw Israeli air defenses intercept approximately eight to 10 incoming rockets from Gaza, and had to take shelter briefly from falling shrapnel.

‘Shield and Arrow’

The IDF began unleashing waves of airstrikes on Tuesday on what it says are Islamic Jihad operatives and infrastructure along the strip. The IDF has struck 254 targets in Gaza during the operation, which it calls “Shield and Arrow.”

Palestinian militant groups have retaliated by launching hundreds of rockets towards Israel.

Among the three Palestinian deaths announced on Friday, one was a Palestinian man who died of his injuries in Gaza after being wounded in an airstrike Thursday in the town of Jabaliya, according to his family, according to the Ministry of Health there.

The hospital where he died named him as Alian Abu Wadi, 38, and said he died after doctors attempted to save him.

Two others were killed in an airstrike on Friday: One has not been named publicly and the other is Islamic Jihad senior commander Iyad Al-Abd Al-Hassan, known as Abu Anas — a member of the Military Council and in charge of the Al Quds Brigades’ Operations Unit, the militant group said Friday.

The Israel Defense Forces said he was the target of the attack.

Al-Hassan “was a key figure in the organization and was involved in all decisions regarding rocket launches and barrages toward Israel,” the IDF said, adding that his predecessor had been killed on Tuesday.

Reflecting on the hostilities’ overall death toll, IDF chief spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the Israeli military believed that 16 Palestinians killed in the violence were “combatants,” and 14 were “uninvolved.”

The IDF also said that four of those Palestinians were killed by Islamic Jihad rockets falling short and landing in Gaza, which the militants rejected as a lie.

Some 973 rockets have been launched towards Israel in the past three days, as of 4 p.m. (9 a.m. ET) Friday, the IDF said. Of those, 761 crossed into Israel and 212 fell short in Gaza or landed in the Mediterranean sea.

Israel’s Iron Dome air defenses intercepted 296 rockets, the IDF said. The system only activates when it projects that a rocket is on target to hit a populated area in Israel.

Destruction in Gaza

Authorities in Gaza have also outlined the extensive damage caused by Israeli airstrikes and border closures inside the extremely isolated enclave, beyond the deaths and injuries.

At least nine civilian houses and 28 housing units have been demolished, and 532 additional housing units were damaged, 37 of which are uninhabitable, authorities said in a government briefing on Friday. In all, 90 families have lost their homes, they added.

They warned that Gaza would be forced to shut its electricity plant within 72 hours because they cannot import fuel, adding that one of three turbines at the power station was already shut down.

Additionally, all formal schooling in Gaza has been halted.

Fishing has been stopped for four days, leaving 3,500 fishermen without work. More than 600 tons of agricultural products are stuck in Gaza, unable to be exported.

Gaza is one of the most densely packed places in the world, an isolated coastal enclave of almost 2 million people crammed into 140 square miles.

Governed by Hamas, the territory is largely cut off from the rest of the world by an Israeli blockade of Gaza’s land, air and sea dating back to 2007. Egypt controls Gaza’s southern border crossing, Rafah.

Israel has placed heavy restrictions on the freedom of civilian movement and controls the importation of basic goods into the narrow coastal strip.

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CNN’s Elliott Gotkine, Abeer Salman and Richard Allen Greene reported from Jerusalem. CNN’s Ibrahim Dahman reported from Gaza. CNN’s Alex Stambaugh reported from Hong Kong. CNN’s Sana Noor Haq wrote from London. CNN’s Ben Wedeman, Mike Schwartz and Kareem Khadder contributed reporting from Sderot, Israel.

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