A series of Israeli attacks in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday left six Palestinians dead, including two children, and at least 10 wounded, casting doubt on the prospects of a cease-fire initiative being circulated among local militant groups by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
One shell hit a housing block's parking lot, killing three people, including a 5-year-old girl, and injuring 10, authorities said.
Witnesses said a second shell in another area of Beit Lahiya apparently struck a donkey cart, killing a 60-year-old woman and her 12-year-old grandson.
The area around Beit Lahiya is a favored spot for Palestinian militants firing rockets into southern Israel.
The twin smokestacks of the power plant in the Israeli city of Ashkelon are clearly visible, separated from the Gaza Strip only by the bare ground that formerly held several Israeli settlements.
Early Monday, militiamen from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade fired several rockets toward Ashkelon.
"Oh sure, they launch from all over the place around here," said Nasser Arasha, 36, who is an unemployed day laborer and resident of the Naba apartment complex in the Gazan border town.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said that more than 50 rockets had been fired into Israel from the Beit Lahiya region in the last few weeks.
"The launching of rockets has continued, so I guess you could say we decided to step things up," she said.
The Israeli move to stem the attacks included a rocket assault launched from an Apache helicopter Sunday night on a house in Gaza City's Nasr neighborhood. Residents of the house said they received a call about a half hour before the attack from someone identified as an Israeli intelligence agent who warned them to evacuate.
The Israeli army spokeswoman said the helicopter targeted a known warehouse storing rockets for the Islamic Jihad militia.
Neighbors in the area confirmed that the owner of the house is a prominent Islamic Jihad member.
She attributed Monday's deaths to artillery "shells that misfired."
As the familiar whomp and delayed thud of nearby artillery fire continued Monday, families from Naba loaded luggage and strollers into waiting cars while fielding frantic phone calls from relatives.
"They're all leaving," said Arasha, who smoked a cigarette while calmly viewing the scene. He said he was planning to stay.
"I'm afraid the house will be looted if I leave it," he said.
Arasha used to work as a day laborer in Israel, he said, but all that stopped months ago when Gazans were barred from entering.
He blamed the Israelis for the violence, but had no love for the "disastrous" new Palestinian government led by Hamas.
His solution to the generations old Israeli-Palestinian standoff: "I wish the sea would take us both so the world could relax."